We had just started the fifth chapter and we did not make much advance because the fifth chapter marks a beginning of a new line of argument and there was a need to join up the end of the argument of the fourth chapter or first four chapters with the argument of the fifth chapter and onwards. The arguments of the chapters 5, 6, and 7, is one line of argument and I pointed out that first four chapters and these three chapters can be linked together, if it is understood that the entire drift of the whole book is to discover, if there is design in this world, it doesn’t assume there is a design. But Sri Aurobindo says that if you are a philosopher then the first task of a philosopher is to ask if there is a design and to look for a design. If you are not a philosopher then that task is not imposed on you. If you are only a poet, you need not. If you are a mere scientist, you need not ask this question, you can only describe it but if you are a philosopher and if you say I want to understand philosophically, all that I am seeing; then Sri Aurobindo says then you must ask this question – if there is any design and try to see if there is a design. It’s only when you have tried your best and not find any design at all then you can surely then you are free, there is no assumption, in philosophy you should be free from all assumptions. There need not be any design in the world at all, the world is what it is. That is why if you recall at one time I read to you a paragraph in The Life Divine which describes the world as a chance. Few days ago I read to you one full paragraph from The Life Divine, where Sri Aurobindo describes the theory of chance. So that theory also has to be taken into account because it is quite possible there is no design. Therefore Sri Aurobindo takes all of us and says: if you want to study philosophy in this world as you find it, then you should ask this question if there is any design and the whole book is actually an exposition of looking for a design. Now in looking for a design, he started with it and came to a conclusion at a certain point and if you do not know this particular design then you will not be able to link up these four chapters with the 5th, 6th and the 7th chapters, therefore I need to repeat. Why because at the end of the fourth chapter, you are describing the Ultimate Reality. And we need to be reminded why Sri Aurobindo has been led to describe the Ultimate Reality. It is as a result of a questioning, if there is a design? In the search of a design, the search for Ultimate Reality became necessary and as a result of that he made inquiry into the nature of the Ultimate Reality. Having described it, it is likely that many people might say; now it is ended because philosophically when you describe the Ultimate Reality there is satisfaction in the human consciousness. When you know what is Ultimate Reality there is a pause in the human consciousness and therefore it is likely that having read what is the Ultimate Reality, you might feel that now all that is to be said has been said, it is ended. Sri Aurobindo says it is not ended, it is only a part of the argument and I have led you to this point which I am now repeating and therefore the 5th chapter begins with the repetition of the conclusion that has been reached at the end of the 4th chapter, by describing what is the nature of the Ultimate Reality? Now Sri Aurobindo’s argument moves forward and says: this Ultimate Reality being what it is will help us, is likely to help us in discovering the design of this world. Does it, does it not? What are the facts which need to be brought forward, so that you understand the design of this world?
Now one very important question, which is actually the whole link in the whole book is – what is the whole world designed to accomplish and whether in that accomplishment in the world as I see it, I am also standing as a part of the total seeing. Whether I have any role to play and if so what is my role? This is the question which is asked in chapter no. 5, 6, 7. Having seen what is Ultimate Reality and Ultimate Reality is ultimate because it should be the key to everything that is in the world, that’s the meaning of the word Ultimate Reality. And Ultimate Reality is that reality which is the key to everything in the world. Now Sri Aurobindo says what are the facts of the world and now compare with the Ultimate Reality. So there are 3 or 4 or 5 important facts. There is first a fact of suffering, death, pain and evil – these are facts. Secondly there is in me a state of egoism, it’s a fact. There is a state of egoism in my consciousness. It is in that state I am asking the question, what is my role here? If Reality is this much, if there is pain, suffering and so on can these two statements jar with each other, they contradict each other and therefore I have still a chance to ask whether what is described as Ultimate Reality is really Ultimate Reality? If I cannot show that it is here a key even to pain and suffering and evil and also to my egoism and my egoistic feelings and my also my demand whether I have any role to play or not, if this cannot be fitted into what I have described as the Ultimate Reality, then I have to question even that and I am quite free to do so. At present however Sri Aurobindo says, we have discovered the Ultimate Reality on a very solid ground. What is the solid ground? On the basis of the discovery of the highest possible experiences on the assumption that experience reveals the reality. If experience was not the means of revelation of reality, I would not have taken recourse to the discussions of experiences but because reality is known to be Reality only through experience and experience does reveal the Reality, therefore Sri Aurobindo has taken us on the long line of expanding of experiences, going up to experience of the cosmic consciousness, going to the experience of the transcendental experience, going to the experience of non-existence, or Nihil and still a beyond. All this has been seen in which ultimately Sri Aurobindo says: if at all you want to speak about it, first of all you must admit you cannot speak about it. It is something in which all contraries meet; therefore any statement you make will be contradicted. Any statement you’ll make, if you say it is existent, it is non-existent. If you say it is consciousness, it is not consciousness. It is delight, it is not delight. If you say it is one, you say there are many. If you say unity, you say it is false. These are all the contradictory propositions which will come and Sri Aurobindo says, in a sense you can’t define it, but if you at all want to define for the sake of understanding, is there any way of defining it. Then Sri Aurobindo says that there is a way of defining, you say it is Sat, Chit and Ananda. Keeping in mind also that description is not to be taken in a verbal way to be the ultimately real description of the Reality, but it will give you an indication by which you can move forward in your thinking process. This is all that he said in the very first paragraph of chapter no. 5:
But this unity is in its nature indefinable. When we seek to envisage it by the mind we are compelled to proceed through an infinite series of conceptions and experiences. And yet in the end we are obliged to negate our largest conceptions, our most comprehensive experiences in order to affirm that the Reality exceeds all definitions. We arrive at the formula of the Indian sages, neti neti, “It is not this, It is not that”, there is no experience by which we can limit It, there is no conception by which It can be defined.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Destiny of the Individual
It is only a restatement of a complete affirmation which admits all negations and says, it is not definable, but it is an unknowable. And I described to you last time what is unknowable, unknowable is a wonder and it is known as wonder. “An unknowable which appears to us in many states and attributes of being, in many forms of consciousness, in many activities of energy – this is what the mind can ultimately say about the existence that we ourselves are and which we see in all that is presented to our thought and senses.”
Now this statement, this is what the mind can ultimately say about the existence, it’s a very interesting statement because I was speaking yesterday of Spinoza and I said Spinoza defines Ultimate Reality as substance and he says substance is that which exists in itself and can be conceived only through itself. This is one of his first statements. The second statement that he makes is also very interesting. He says: although it can be conceived through itself, as far as our mind is concerned, our mind tries to conceive it; and he says that what our mind conceives of it is only attributes of it, it cannot understand that substance in itself; that substance can be understood only in itself, only through it. If you are yourself God, you will understand what is God but as far as we are concerned at the highest, if you take your mind at the highest, then you try to conceive of it and when you conceive of it, you will only get attributes of that substance. You cannot do more than that. So now when Sri Aurobindo says what our mind can envisage, Sri Aurobindo actually you may say is repeating what Spinoza at his highest thought, he had said about the Reality, it is stated in one line simply:
An Unknowable which appears to us in many states and attributes of being, in many forms of consciousness, in many activities of energy, this is what Mind can ultimately say about the existence which we ourselves are and which we see in all that is presented to our thought and senses. It is in and through those states, those forms, those activities that we have to approach and know the Unknowable.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Destiny of the Individual
This is exactly what Spinoza said. He said this reality must have theoretically infinite attributes, but our mind being what it is, it can only conceive this reality, only in two attributes, that is his conclusion. If you examine the mind and if it looks at the substance and tries to understand it, it has got to say it must have infinite attributes. Why infinite, because there is only one substance, there is nothing else which can limit it. Since it cannot be limited it must have infinite attributes. Our mind being what it is, it can only see two attributes. What are those two attributes, he says the one attribute that we can see is thought, that is this substance is having an attribute of thought. The second is, it has got extension. These are the only two attributes we can see of it because your mind only has the capacity for only these two things; a man can only think or it can only see in extensions. This being the only thing we can do nothing more than this. In other words, without using the terms of Indian philosophy, he says the Reality can be seen as Brahman. Brahman is that it expands, extends and Reality is that which is Chit, though he did not speak of Ananda but he says that Reality is Sat and is Chit. So the only two things we can see is – it is Brahman and it is Chit, that is his conclusion.
Now Sri Aurobindo also tells us, he does not tell us to limit ourselves to Spinoza, because Spinoza this is his point of view. Sri Aurobindo says that if we want to know that unknowable, we cannot know it in itself, we can only know its attributes, different states of being, different states of consciousness, different states of your sensitivities, these are all that we can know and through this we can try to approach that reality.
But if in our haste to arrive at a Unity that our mind can seize and hold, if in our insistence to confine the Infinite in our embrace we identify the Reality with any one definable state of being however pure and eternal, with any particular attribute however general and comprehensive, with any fixed formulation of consciousness however vast in its scope, with any energy or activity however boundless its application, and if we exclude all the rest, then our thoughts sin against Its unknowableness and arrive not at a true unity but at a division of the Indivisible.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Destiny of the Individual
This is like Spinoza saying that the Reality has got infinite attributes. If you limit it to this attribute or to that attribute, you are sinning against its infinity and also its indivisibility. This is also the conclusion of the Vedanta. It is very interesting for any student of comparative philosophy to see how, if you look at the history of Western thought and Indian thought, you will see that human thought is by its nature so universal, you don’t need to be Eastern or Western, you need to have only the mind but you need …….and the mind when it thinks of the highest the conclusion is the same, whether in the East or in the West. This idea that Ultimate Reality is substance which can exist only through itself and which can be conceived only through itself is also the highest that India defines Ultimate Reality as – that which exists in itself − Sat and which can be conceived only through itself − Chit and this that it is, it must have infinite attributes, it cannot be limited to anything, this statement is also the statement of Indian philosophy. Therefore both in the East and the West as far as the ultimate description of Reality is concerned there is no opposition, the two coincide. If you look at the two trends without presuppositions, without preconceptions and without the idea of antagonism and without being snared by some words which are used here which are not used there. If you try to understand what is behind the words, what is being tried to be conveyed, you will find that East and West when it considers what is thought and what thought can envisage is the highest, the descriptions are the same basically.
Now Sri Aurobindo goes farther and says not only what is conceived as the highest, it also coincides with what is experienced as the highest. This is one special point of view of the Eastern thought; it not only tries to conceive the highest, it also wants to experience the highest. Now there again I am making a sin against the Truth, because even in the West it is not as if this attitude of experiencing is absent and there is only an attitude of thinking. Even in the West, the Western thought started with experience, just as in India also we started with experience. In the West also, if you read the earlier stages of civilisation, particularly Orphic civilisation, it is an attempt to experience the highest. The Veda also is nothing but an approach of experience and to lead experience to the highest. The cleavage came later on. In fact Socrates and Plato mark a point of cleavage. Socrates and Plato were children of mystics but they were the parents of rationalism. So a starting point of emphasis on reason started with Socrates and Plato. Even one like Pythagoras who came earlier his emphasis on reason was not so great, as in spiritual experience.
Sri Aurobindo while explaining Indian history, he has made a very important statement – the one distinguishing mark of Indian history was the period of Upanishads. In India we started with spiritual experience, it degenerated. It started with the Veda, then came a period of Brahmanas. Brahmanas reduced the spiritual experience into rituals. There would have been a revolt against it, as it happened in the West. Orphism also started with spiritual experiences and then it reduced itself into worship of gods and goddesses and ritualism. Then came a revolt against it of the reason and that is what is presented by Socrates and Plato. That is the reason why it was argued that Socrates does not believe in the gods, it was one of the accusations against Socrates, which is partly true and partly not true. He believed in god, he also worshipped gods but not in the way in which, there was a general popular way in which ritualism was prevalent, he did not fall into ritualism and therefore there was revolt against Socrates from the side of ritualists. So there came about a resistance to ritualism in the form of Socrates and Plato and they started a movement called rationalism.
In India however, when ritualism developed, corresponding to ritualism in the ancient period of the West, there was a revolt against ritualism but it was not followed by the period of reason, this is a distinguishing feature of Indian history. The period that came after Brahmanas was not the period of philosophy but the period of Upanishads. It was the period in which spiritual experiences were revived, spirituality was revived. The spirituality of the Veda which tended to be forgotten in the Brahmanas came to be revisited, it was a fresh approach, a fresh wave came. It is as if from the god’s point of view, there were two wings, on one wing God experimented with spirituality and keeping an emphasis on spirituality intact, in the West, God allowed an experience of spirituality to begin with and then starting a period of reason, as a result the two historical developments began to move on different lines. God is neither favourable to East or to West, he is favourable to the whole of humanity and He wanted to make an experiment. Supposing I allow a culture to develop more on a spiritual line and another on a rational line, what will happen? It’s an experiment. Therefore in India this wave or tide came in India of a revival of a spirituality and Upanishads came. Therefore in the inner history of India, if you want to see the inner history it started with intuition, went into ritualism and there was a return of intuition. It was after that period that the line of development which took place in the West was also allowed to take place here, namely the period of reason that is why it is after Upanishads that philosophical systems began to be developed in India. Upanishads give way only to spiritual revival that is why Sri Aurobindo says Upanishads are not philosophical works; they are only statements of spiritual experiences but in a language which is not so figurative as the Veda, much more easy for us to understand. That is why since it is a revival of the Vedic experience and since Vedic experience is not understandable to us, we are told you just read Upanishads which are more easy to understand, it is nothing but Veda. So this tradition has remained in India, instead of going to the Veda, you go to the Upanishads, it’s the same thing. There is a farther thing, later on when Gita came they said even Gita is only a restatement of the Veda. So this period of the Upanishads was a distinctive feature of Indian history and because of this curve the rhythm of Indian history is different from the rhythm of the West. Having made this experiment for a long time with special emphasis on spirituality in Indian history, with a special emphasis on reason in the West, from humanity's point of view, we have to now come together and reach to seek the total result. If you move on this line what happens, if you live on this side what happens? We have come to that point that is what Sri Aurobindo’s basic point here is, from a special point of view. Today we stand at a point where we can take stock of what has happened to the Indian experiment and what has happened to the European experiment? It is in the light of that historical development that all that we are now thinking has a relevance. We now have a possibility of taking stock of both the histories, putting together the treasures of both and then revisit the problems of existence and the design of the world and try to see the significance of this world from that point of view. That is why that famous paragraph in the 2nd chapter:
It is therefore of good augury that after many experiments and verbal solutions we should now find ourselves standing today in the presence of the two that have alone borne for long the most rigorous tests of experience, the two extremes, and that at the end of the experience both should have come to a result which the universal instinct in mankind, that veiled judge, sentinel and representative of the universal Spirit of Truth, refuses to accept as right or as satisfying. In Europe and in India, respectively, the negation of the materialist and the refusal of the ascetic have sought to assert themselves as the sole truth and to dominate the conception of Life. In India, if the result has been a great heaping up of the treasures of the Spirit,—or of some of them,—it has also been a great bankruptcy of Life; in Europe, the fullness of riches and the triumphant mastery of this world’s powers and possessions have progressed towards an equal bankruptcy in the things of the Spirit. Nor has the intellect, which sought the solution of all problems in the one term of Matter, found satisfaction in the answer that it has received.
This is the conclusion of the present day that is where we stand today and that is why the possibility and necessity of the synthesis of the East and the West. They both have started on the same line, it is not as if Sri Aurobindo said, ‘do not make a distinction between East and West so sharp as if to say India has never been materialistic and West has never been spiritualistic, it is not true, there is only a emphasis at a given time in history there an emphasis came up. If you read Sri Aurobindo’s message to America which he gave in 1950, it’s a very important message where the first sentence Sri Aurobindo speaks is about saying don’t make this distinction. Sri Aurobindo says the message that I give to the West is the same as the message I give to India. It is not as if it is a message especially to the West, the message that Sri Aurobindo gives, and this Life Divine is the message. It’s a message both to India and to the West, which is a universal synthesis of the East and the West.
Question: When India was materialistic was she at times also not spiritual.
Answer: India has been as materialistic as the West. The West has been as spiritual as India, but in the West the shadow of the spirit has been cast aside in its movement of materialism and therefore its spirituality has not been as profuse as India. In India materialism did play a great role, the wealth of India was one attraction of the foreigners to come to India, so it is not as if India has no materialism but the shadow of the East of the spirit was very heavily laid on it that is the only difference. So, it is in that light of the East and West, in the light of a synthesis that once again we read the synthesis in the approach in regard to the Ultimate Reality. Once again, Ultimate Reality in the West has come to be conceived with the mind much more vividly and in so far as that is done in the East also the same thing. It is not true that India is metaphysically weak, philosophically very weak, it's not true. In fact Sri Aurobindo has said: West has been as philosophical as India, it is not the other way round. The West has been as philosophical as India but in India reference to spiritual experience has been much more prominent, much more emphasised. You cannot say that in the West there has been no reference to spirituality, the whole middle ages is nothing but a reference to spiritual experience. But the emphasis that is laid in India on the spiritual experience has reached a very great height and that is why Sri Aurobindo refers to that period when the spiritual experience was at its height, – Veda and the Upanishad. He does not refer to the later stages of the spiritual experience but to the highest. That is why Sri Aurobindo says: so strongly was this truth perceived in the ancient times that the Vedantic seers (the word Vedantic seer is an ambiguous term because in India the word Vedanta is used in two periods, the Upanishadic period is called Vedantic period, but also when Vedanta came to be commented upon by a number of philosophers, later on that also is called Vedantic period) therefore Sri Aurobindo says: in ancient times the Vedantic seers, not of the middle ages, middle ages also had the Vedantic period, it was the period of pure spiritual outburst,
So strongly was this truth perceived in the ancient times that the Vedantic Seers, even after they had arrived at the crowning idea, the convincing experience of Sachchidananda as the highest positive expression of the Reality to our consciousness, erected in their speculations or went on in their perceptions to an Asat, a Non-Being beyond, which is not the ultimate existence, the pure consciousness, the infinite bliss of which all our experiences are the expression or the deformation.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Destiny of the Individual
So this attempt of the Vedanta to speak of the Reality Sat, but also as Asat indicated the highest effort of Vedantic seers not to be limited either by positive descriptions or by negative descriptions. It is to say Ultimate Reality has infinite attributes and even beyond that, you can only grasp a few. Even the word Sat, if you say it is an attribute understood by our mind of the Reality or the highest experience of the spirit, even that need not be regarded the highest. In fact Taittiriya Upanishad says very clearly in the beginning was the non-being and then came the being, this is the statement of the Taittiriya Upanishad. It is also referred to in the Rig Veda in the Nasidya Sukta, which starts with the na asat, nasadiya means it is a sukta which begins with the word na sad, it says: in the beginning there was no non-being, nor was there being. It says in the beginning there was neither non-being nor being. It is that state which is described in the Veda. Taittiriya Upanishad says in the beginning was the non-being then came the being. Then Chhandogya Upanishad says how can that be, how can being come out of non-being? So it says: no, no, no, it was all being, being is being is being, everywhere is the being. So now if you read all this together the conclusion is that the Vedantic seers wanted to make it very clear, do not quarrel wether that Reality is non-being or being, don’t say it is Sat, therefore not Chit, don't say it is Chit therefore not Ananda, it is Sachchidananda, if you say it is not Sachchidananda, that also is true, it is Neti, Neti, it’s this one, not that one, this is the highest possible definition, both intellectually and spiritually to which we have arrived and this is what Sri Aurobindo wants to assert first of all that if try to find out the significance of all that is here and around us, you are bound to look for the Ultimate Reality and when you go to the search of the Ultimate Reality, either by the mind or by the spiritual experience, you will be thrown to this concept that Ultimate Reality is that which is indefinable and whatever word you use, it is incomplete about it. It is omnipresent Reality, in the light of which all that is here can be understood and can be signified.
Now the only problem is if that is the nature of Reality. Having come to it now comes the original question with which the whole thing started. What is all this world about, if this is the Ultimate Reality, then can this world and its design be understood? This is where we stand now in the organisation of the idea of The Life Divine. We started with this question, we were led to inquire into the highest, we inquired into the highest, we came to this conclusion then we again now come to the question, having seen this to be the Ultimate Reality what do you have to say about all that is there in this world, what is the design? In regard to this, Sri Aurobindo brings out a very important fact in the same paragraph that we are reading: “And in the transactions of a positive consciousness even unity has to make the account with multiplicity.” This statement is the central statement in this chapter……..in the light of the knowledge of the Ultimate Reality that you have gained there is one important fact in regard to which we are obliged to enquire. We have to relate that Reality with the fact of what we say unity and multiplicity, it’s also a fact. You see in this world everywhere multiplicity. You see everywhere, things together, if not unity exactly but things together, the surprising fact is in this world, you never see anything alone. This is a basic fact. Why is it that when I open my eyes, I don’t see anything alone? This world is such; there is a design in it. Why is it that I don’t see things all by themselves alone? Everywhere I see multiplicity, everywhere I see togetherness. Therefore this chapter is given to the consideration of the idea of unity in multiplicity. How do we understand this? What is multiplicity, what is unity? So let us read this, this is the question. We have to settle the account with regard to this question.
Now you see the exposition of this question. "……for the Many also are Brahman." (this half a sentence is an argument.) even Unity has to make its account with Multiplicity; for the Many also are Brahman." Now this is a packed argument, in the sense – if Ultimate Reality consists of everything and if Upanishads speak of unity, you have to ask the question about multiplicity, what is a fact, how is this Reality which we are conceiving, how does it give an account of it, attempts an account of it. Sri Aurobindo says: that if you read the Vedanta, it says many are also Brahman. Ultimate Reality is not only unity but also many; this is the statement of the Vedanta. You cannot see immediately how it can be but Sri Aurobindo says you have got to take it into account because Vedanta says – not only unity is multiplicity, unity is Brahman. Even the multiplicity, many are also Brahman. Now comes a more difficult and more complex statement. "It is by Vidya, the Knowledge of the Oneness, that we know God;…” Now to understand this statement there is a vast background from Vedantic possessed, it is sometimes you might say one who is not acquainted with the Vedanta and all that Vedanta has spoken of this problem will simply see a statement being made – “It is by Vidya, the Knowledge of the Oneness, that we know God;…” what is the indication of this statement? In fact in this sentence the whole problem of unity and multiplicity is summarised. In the Vedanta there is a definition of knowledge, this idea of knowledge is forecasted with the idea of ignorance. In the language of the Upanishad knowledge is described as Vidya and ignorance is described as avidya. In the Upanishad knowledge is equated with oneness, avidya is equated with the perception of multiplicity. There is also in the Vedanta para vidya and apara vidya the two kinds of vidyas. There is also the statement that the highest condition of consciousness is obtained when you see oneness everywhere. Ekatvam anupaśyataḥ, – you see oneness everywhere. As long as you see multiplicity, you are in ignorance, you are in a state of knowledge when you see oneness, − this statement is also made. It is also said in the Upanishad that those who follow knowledge, they go into greater darkness than those who follow avidya (darkness). It is also said that when you follow avidya, you follow avidya, you will cross death. It is when you gain the knowledge that you will enjoy immortality. Now these are all the statements that you find in the Upanishads. So unless we are quite packed, it is so difficult to appreciate the argument that is stated here. It says in a very brief word as it were, you already know about this problem and this problem has been debated so much in the Vedanta and when you come to this book and if you have not read it, you are not qualified to read it. That’s why Mother said: you require ten years to prepare yourself to read The Life Divine and that is quite true. But if you do without that preparation, you do need to have a lot of stopping on the way, which I am doing, almost at every paragraph I am stopping so much because it is so packed. Unless you have a very good background of the history of religion, history of occultism, history of philosophy, history of Yoga, history of sociology, history of politics, and unless you are thoroughly engaged in Western thought, metaphysics and Western metaphysics, unless you have got a good grounding in Western psychology and Indian, Eastern psychology. Unless you are very well done with the epistemology of the East and the West, unless you have this background, this book cannot be understood. But it can be understood if at the right time the right background is given, it is not impossible that’s why we doing this kind of a task, to stop at every important point and even to take one paragraph from here and one paragraph from there, we are applying so as to connect and to get the background necessary at the right time and that’s why Mother said also: do not dwell upon the text of Sri Aurobindo, the text should be left to the students themselves but give them a great deal of background. And unless that background is given we can’t appreciate what Sri Aurobindo has said. So here this question of oneness, multiplicity, knowledge and ignorance – these words are extremely important and unless we know how these words have been used in the Veda and the Upanishad and in the history of Indian philosophy, particularly, we won’t be able to understand this text. So I will go through these lines and then again stop at a good point and to refer to some background. “It is by Vidya, the Knowledge of the Oneness, that we know God; without it Avidya, the relative and multiple consciousnesses, is a night of darkness and a disorder of Ignorance. Yet (this is Ishopanishad) if we exclude the field of that Ignorance, if we get rid of Avidya as if it were a thing non-existent and unreal, then Knowledge itself becomes a sort of obscurity and a source of imperfection. We become as men blinded by a light so that we can no longer see the field which that light illumines.” We stop here because it is a very important statement.
The Ishopanishad describes the highest state where all that gives suffering and all that is painful is described. What is that state?
yasminsarvāni bhūtānanyātmaivabhudvijānataḥ |
tatra ko mohaḥ kaḥ śoka ekatvamanupaśyataḥ ||
यस्मिन् सर्वाणि भूतानि आत्मैवाभूद् विजानतः।
तत्र को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वमनुपश्यतः ॥
He in whom it is the Self - Being that has become all existences that are Becomings, for he has the perfect knowledge, how shall he be deluded, whence shall he have grief who sees everywhere oneness ?
That in which the Self has become all the becomings – objectivisticity and having vijānataḥ there is a distinction between jānataḥ and vijānataḥ, that is a Sanskrit etymological understanding. Upanishad could have used the word jānataḥ, but it doesn't, jānataḥ means knowing, vijānataḥ means knowing much more. So vijānataḥ that is to say not only vishishta but vistarinam that also vijānataḥ. Not only specially known but also vistarinah, that which is known in all its complexity, vistara in all its expansion. The atma is one but it is that atma has become sarvāni bhūtāni, all this multiplicity, one who has known atma and one who has known in expansion that this atman has become All, it’s not only knowledge of oneness but also knowledge of All, when the two are together then the word used is vijānataḥ. It is only when you have known One and Many then tatra ko mohaḥ then where does lie any mohaḥ, kaḥ śoka – what suffering can remain. But it says finally ekatvamanupaśyataḥ, the Atman is one, all bhūtāni are many, they are also yet seen as ekatvam, even that is seen as one. The one and many are both combined together, one who knows one, and one who knows one has become many and yet one has seen oneness that is vijānataḥ. This is the statement which has to be underlined. The Vedantic seers maintained that you have to know multiplicity, you have to know the oneness, you have to see unity and multiplicity also as one. Your perception of unity has to be so sharpened that even when you see multiplicity, all oneness is to collide with each other, even that is not allowed. The two are so unified that ultimately you see the one, all this is one, that is to say it is not as if all is one Reality and multiplicity is another Reality, we are not seeing both, even if you see both, one and multiplicity, you still have to reach a point where you see all one. That is the state to which Upanishad has drawn our attention. Then it says:
vidyāṃ cāvidyāṃ ca yastadvedobhya saha |
avidyayā mṛtyuṃ tīrtvā'mṛtamaśnute ||
विद्याञ्चाविद्याञ्च यस्तद्वेदोभयं सह।
अविद्यया मृत्युं तीर्त्वा विद्ययाऽमृतमश्नुते ॥
He who knows That as both in one, the Knowledge and the Ignorance, by the Ignorance crosses beyond death and by the Knowledge enjoys Immortality.
One who knows obhyam, obhyam means both, one who knows both vidya and avidya, only that person crosses death by avidya and enjoys immortality by vidya. These are very pregnant words and very difficult paradoxical words but they are there and they are deliberately put in the way in which they are put. Now all that is stated when Sri Aurobindo speaks of this sentence and if you are not aware of this background, we would only feel that something incomprehensible has been said, stated and then passed over, but that is not the case because it’s a very important qualification. I Read again. "It is by Vidya, the knowledge of the oneness that we know God, without it avidya the relative and multiple consciousness; it is the night of darkness in a disorder of ignorance. Yet if we exclude the field of that ignorance, if you get rid of avidya as if it were a thing non-existent and unreal then knowledge itself becomes a sort of obscurity and a source of imperfection. We become as man blinded by a light so that we can no longer see the field with that light evenness…..
Now I would like to raise two questions. Why Sri Aurobindo refers to Vedanta, when this question of unity and multiplicity has been raised? It is because the way in which the problem of unity and multiplicity has been seen in the West is almost negligently seen. I should be pardoned when I say this because those who have studied only Western philosophy and not Indian philosophy they would think that it is a depreciation of the Western philosophy. But if you study both impartially, you can say this problem of multiplicity and unity has been seen in Indian philosophy, much more profoundly and much more deeply. It is a historical fact; it is not that one wants to be partial to India as against the West. It’s a fact, if you study this problem of unity and multiplicity in the West, this problem has not been sufficiently seen. Now let me explain because it’s a very serious position we are taking. The first time metaphysically the question very seriously is raised is in Plato, the question of unity and multiplicity. And I shall again dwell upon this question because this whole question can be sufficiently realised in depth. It's only when we visit Eastern and Western thought on this question and all that is in this chapter that is why unless we visit all this, we won’t understand the statements that are made in this chapter.
In Plato, the greatest book that he has written is The Republic, but there are many other dialogues also which are quite important and quite illuminating. Plato has emphasised in his philosophy the concept of the universal. He discovers that by process of thinking you are obliged to come to the concept of the universal. If you stand in the world, you see multiplicity everywhere and you try to understand, what is all this multiplicity? Then he says: in this multiplicity there are many things which are similar to each other. Now this fact of similarity is picked up by Plato. When all things look pell-mell but there are many things in this world which are similar to each other. There are two roses, which are multiple roses, many roses; but they are all similar to each other. Each one is different from the other but all the roses are similar to each other. It is a very striking fact.
A good philosopher is one who not only sees facts, as anybody can see but who can see patterns in facts, designs in facts if at all that's a philosophical attitude, to see design, to see meaning. Is there any meaning in so many multiplicities that we see? And the first thing that he brings out is that there are many things which are similar to each other. Then he asks the question, can we think of the explanation of the similarities, why do two flowers resemble each other? Is there any clue in this world? So he comes to the conclusion that the similarity between two flowers cannot be explained, if there is not one universal flower. There must be a universal, which only can explain similar things. There are all kinds of cots; people sleep on small cots, big cots, more refined cot, another kind of cot, many beds. Why do you all call them beds? Although they are all similar but each one is different, but why do you call them with one word – bed, because there is some universal element in all of them, which is the same. This is the rational argument of Plato that you cannot explain the similarities between things in the world, unless there is a universal. And such a universal must exist because similarities do exist. Therefore he says that a universal bed must be existing. There must be a universal lotus. This is also the word archetype, the archetype must exist. It is this archetype, this universal, in the light of which multiplicity can be explained. So unity and multiplicity he says can be reconciled only with the idea, there is a universal, which somehow manifests. And there was a big problem for him. Is universal only one? Yes, only one universal flower, one universal lotus, one universal bed. How does it become multiple, if it is only one how does it become multiple?
Now here is a question, which if you study Plato impartially, you find that he is hesitant to be with. In one of his dialogues he says: if there is one, there can’t be many. If there is one, there can’t be many. You cannot explain multiplicity if you want, one is one. How does it become multiple? This is one lacuna in his thought, if you read. This is a question which is left. At another time he was asked: Dirt exists in the world and dirty things do resemble each other, was there universal dirt somewhere and he refrained: how can it be, an universal dirt, unthinkable. Beauty, yes, there must be universal beauty but universal dirt, he refrains from answering; though the question is there, he refrains from answering.
There is a third answer he gives. It is that apart from the universal, there must be something other than universal. There must be something that you can call Matter, which you can call Matter. Universal according to Plato explains all similarities that universal must exist therefore universal is real, it must exist otherwise similarities can’t be explained. That universal must exist is real. If that is real then the Matter is not universal. Matter is something here which he calls, you may call it existing, non-existing, that is real this Matter you may call it existing may not call it existing. It is something which is not existing and something on which the universal can be imprinted. And that existing, non-existing thing which is going on as if it were under a printing press the universal is stamping on this existing, non-existing thing which is fluctuating. All the world is a flux and the universal is all the time imprinting itself, therefore they are all similar. Similarities are nothing but copies of the universal. All that are similar, he says that all similar things in the world are imprints of the universal and they are all copies of the universal. Therefore none of this actually captures the real universal. There are so many beautiful objects in the world but that beauty is not captured, it is universal. It’s the most wonderful thing. All other beautiful things in the world, they only partake of that beauty. You can give some idea of what that beauty would be like but that which it surpasses, it can only be conceived according to him. You can conceive in thought but you can never experience it but it must be real. That real which can be conceived at your highest is universal, and what you see are only copies, fake copies of that universal.
Now I am giving a simple exposition of the grand philosophy of Plato in regard to the existence of Matter. According to me this is sufficient to understand how difficult it is that even a philosopher like Plato at his best gave only this answer to this question. And even we who are hardly any philosophers comparable to him, we can see the unsatisfactoriness of the answer that he gives. Now this question of the universal and similarities, the question of particulars, the question of Matter in which all multiplicity is basically seen, this question has remained exactly as it was in Plato. I am giving a very sweeping statement. All these things that you see are only particulars. These material things that you see are all particulars. Particulars are all in flux. They come into existence and they go away after sometime. Therefore they exist and they don’t exist. But particularity existing, non-existing, flux all that is there before our eyes and this cannot be explained unless there is a universal idea that must be permanent. This is not in a flux, this is always present. A flower was in the past, it is also present and it will be in the future. That basic stuff is going on all the time.
Now the problem that he was facing in his dialogue on this question has remained, not that it has not been raised again and again. Whole history of Western philosophy is in a sense a revisiting of this problem. Since I am required to give you only a summary idea, in its most essential point, I would simply say that this question that he raised, has not been answered. Can one become many, this is one question. Secondly, how does the universal manifest in things which are similar. What is the process by which this can happen? There must be something different from the universal on which all these things are presented. How does it happen? And why do you need to suppose, some basic stuff which exists, which does not exist, on which universals are printed in one form or the other this question has been raised. It is easy to posit oneness, having posited oneness to discuss the plurality is difficult and to explain the plurality in the world as it is, is difficult. It is easy to say that one universal is real, all the rest is existing, non-existing – is unreal. You may not be satisfied but it is so, there is no other possible answer. In the West there is a big tendency to state that all particulars are appearances, they are not real. They are all parts of the whole – universal. How these are parts of the whole, there must be ripples, the whole must exist and the parts all you are seeing here, for it must be. But how? The highest expression of this problem is in Bradley. Bradley is supposed to be the most refined Platonist. If you bring Plato to the highest manifestation, all the ideas put forward by Plato, not that he agreed with Plato in everything but if you bring this concept of Reality, Reality must be universal and that all the rest particulars etc. must be part of it and all the parts must be only appearances and not Reality, neither illusions nor real. Therefore he calls them appearances. This is the highest conclusion to which you arrive on this line of thinking.
Now those who do not accept this reasoning at all, these are all called idealists, who fall in line with Plato. All idealists accept universals as Real and they regard particulars as appearances. Now as against it there is also another view, which started with Aristotle, a student of Plato as a student himself, Aristotle himself was not satisfied with Plato. So he said that I will explain things better. Bertrand Russell, while discussing Aristotle, said: that Aristotle tried to be more than what Plato had proposed to do but ultimately he came back to Plato, without admitting that what he says is Plato. And secondly he says that because of this unclarity, Aristotle is very difficult to understand. He says I have now solved the problem, he doesn’t solve the problem but he thinks he must have solved, so you don’t understand where is the solution? And from that time onwards, there has been, in quest, a tendency to deprecate idealism. Idealism has continued, right from up to the present day, even today it is still there. Idealism should be actually regarded as idea-ism, not idealism it regards Idea as ultimately Real. Universal ideas are Real, that is the basic thing of idealism.
Now those who have opposed it say that this whole problem arises because you assume that similarities can be explained only by universal ideas, which must be existing. He said this reasoning is good. All these are such pathetic ways of looking at East and West, it's not a very impartial way of looking at East and West that is why Sri Aurobindo says that the great distinction which is made between East and West is too exaggerated, it's not true. We need to look at the whole world as if it is world thought and not quarrel about East and West and all that, these are all puerile quarrels you might say. Now those who believe this argument of Plato, right from his time, that is why it is very interesting to read Plato’s discussion in Bertrand Russell’s book, he is the latest writer who has written on Plato from that other point of view. So he says that there is no need to assume that there is a universal. He says: I don’t deny that there are many cats which are similar to each other. I can even say there is something like cattiness. Fine! Why should I say that there is some cattiness somewhere in heaven which is being imprinted in all the cats? There is cattiness, it’s all right, there is cattiness and it’s the end of the matter. If you like, you coin a word which is applicable to all of them, who look alike, so that in your conversation there is no problem. You can converse very easily, you have labelled. There is a class of xyz, they all look like each other and there is cattiness in them and you give one word – cat. Problem is resolved, where is the problem? There is only multiplicity in the world. Fact is only many-ness, where is unity, what is this unity idea? It is true they are similar. So many things happen similarly, so what? Why should there be a problem? You raised the problem, why should they be similar? They are similar, that is the end of the matter. Don’t raise those questions. There are no such things, heavenly born intuitions that come from above and tell you about universals, you require, of course for language you require universals. For talking instead of saying: this cat, that cat, that cat, it is convenient for me to say cats. For the sake of conversation, for the sake of language, dialogue, you abbreviate – this is called Luminaries Theory. The universal is only a name, not a Reality existing in heaven. All universals, so called universals are only words; they don’t really mean that there must be a universal cat, only then only all these cats can be explained. There are cats that plurality is a fact, multiplicity is a fact and that's the end of the matter, what is the problem? So you can see here another line of philosophical thinking which cuts the problem right at the root. Plato found it difficult to explain why things are similar to each other, why should they be similar to each other? So he said: it is an unnecessary question, which we should not have. Things are similar to each other. Of course you require for language some code words. So make a code word, don’t say it corresponds to universal, it’s a code word which can be applied to many cats which look similar to each other, that’s all.
Now you can see that many philosophers are not satisfied with this answer. Now the latest philosopher is De Chardin, who wrote two volumes on nature of thought, who points out whether you like it or not, there is in thought process, a very important process which is called implication. This implies this. This word ‘implication’ is very important. No thought is possible unless you come to recognise implication. Then he said that implication carries with it an idea of necessity. A implies B only if it is necessarily implied. If light has gone off, it's because of the power of light is gone, something has happened in the power house. The absence of light here implies necessarily that the power supply has gone out, necessarily. To a child you have to say: that look this has happened here that has happened there. But in the thought process, you don’t need to, every time. The moment you see the light has gone off here it implies that in the power house something has happened about the light, about the electricity implies; now this important point of implication is connected with necessity, now necessity implies that whether you like it or not something happens in the world necessarily. Things happen necessarily. Therefore with regard to the things in the world, you ask the question why at all this should happen necessarily. So Plato was quite right in saying: two flowers resemble each other, you must ask the question, what is the necessity of it? Yourself saying, it has happened, it’s a laziness of thought, you must ask a farther question. Why should this happen? It’s a natural condition of your mind, the mind is seeking an answer. You can say to somebody now, don’t bother me, don’t ask me this question. So he says those people who do not relate particulars with the universals are those who are not faithful to the process of thought and the capacity of thought to discover connections in the light of which you are better enlightened about the whole world. The world becomes much more explicable, much more understandable if you can find out connections, necessary connections and then the thought is truly satisfied. There are people who may not raise all these questions, it is all a waste of time but the mind is not satisfied. The mind is really satisfied, it may become lazy, it may become weary but not satisfied. The mind really becomes satisfied only if you find a necessary connection and when you connect the things of the world necessarily with something, which can explain. There are particulars, who seem to be similar. You have got to answer, so Plato was quite right in raising this question that if things look similar there must be a reason behind it, there is a necessity of it. And he succeeded quite a great deal in conceiving that the whole world ultimately can be conceived in three terms, – Truth, Beauty and Goodness. And even today nobody can deny that ultimately all human beings, whether they like it or not, are obliged to speak in terms of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. The whole history of thought is before you, that is the greatness of Plato. Long ago he pointed out that all your thought processes ultimately can be reduced to these three concepts, – Truth, Beauty and Goodness and that they are universal. So how can you say Plato was puerile or autocratic as many people think today, later philosophers? How can you say that?
Now these two thoughts which are opposed to each other are even today not reconciled in the West. Now that thought which is anti-Platonic tends to emphasise the particular, saying particular requires no explanation, particular is particular. Therefore this thought tends to emphasise the individual. There are individuals, – that is the whole statement, in this world there are individuals. The effort of idealistic thought to put individuals into a bundle of whole, according to these thinkers, is wrong. It’s a Platonic way of bundling together under one universal. And according to them this is what has resulted in Hegelianism. Hegel, just as Bradley, I spoke of Bradley, but the parent of Bradley philosophically is Hegel. I speak of Bradley because if you study even Hegel there are defects in his philosophical thought which according to my understanding have been repaired by Bradley. But to many people Hegel stands supreme in taking Platonism to its highest conclusion. So according to Hegel all particular things in the world can be subsumed under higher universals and higher universals until you come to one vast universal whole in which all are included, everything stand explained. No part in the world exists just like that. No part in the world exists contingently. Every part in the world exists necessarily. Every part in the world exists necessarily on account of the whole, because of the whole therefore the part as it is. All individuals you, we, everybody is actually nothing but a part of the whole and there are greater and greater wholes. There is a hierarchy of wholes in this world according to Hegel.
Now comes Hegelian political philosophy as a result of this. He points out that the highest whole is a state. What is a state? State is nothing but an organised society. Every human being is a part of a society, you can’t escape it. What you are is because of the whole society as it is they are parts of wholes. You wear a certain dress because you are a part of the society. You all look alike because you are all Indians. In other words all particularities can be reduced ultimately to the whole and he says the highest whole is the state. State is nothing but the society taken as a whole which has the highest intelligence, it is a combination of all the intelligence of the whole society and it strives to do the best for everyone. This is the concept of the state is the combination of the highest will, highest intelligence of all the people in the society put together and which looks after the highest good of all. Now follows the conclusion from it. An individual must recognise that he is a part of the whole society because that is the reality of him. A flower must be a flower because there is a universal flower. You are what you are because of society; recognise that you are a part of the whole. This whole has created a state. The highest thought of the society is put into the state. Therefore the highest good of the individual lies in the highest good of the state and the highest that you can do is to obey the state and do what the state asks you to do because it perceives the whole. This is called the idealist theory of the state. The highest destiny of the individual, this is our subject, the highest destiny of the individual according to this theory is to recognise that you are a part of the state and that you must abide harmoniously with what the state dictates, it is the destiny of the individual. You are a part, you remain a part, you die as a part and as long as you remain a part, you have to be subservient to the state. Authority of the state is the supreme authority. Of course there is something higher than the state but that is still to be built, it’s not yet formed. The world is still in formation. At present only the state is the highest form that has been created. Therefore as long as that is the highest state for an individual, the best is to subserve himself as a servant of the state and that is your real freedom. Your bondage is as long as you do not collide with others. You feel a bondage because you don’t understand it; you don’t understand that your highest satisfaction and fulfilment will come if you admit the whole state. Therefore the state has the responsibility of obliging you to obey the state. Therefore the state has a duty to ask all the citizens to abide thoroughly to the decisions of the state. Now this is the idealist theory of the state. It is on that basis, if you take it forward, you can understand Hitler. Hitler is state. He decides you should do this, everybody should do it. He has a right to make you free, your freedom consists in obeying, if you don’t obey, you are not free. Therefore the state must impose upon you so that you can become free. To be free is to be able to subserve willingly, knowingly, intelligently and accept the order of the state. Now it is because of this reason, that idealist theory of the state and idealism as such has come into great disrepute; it wants to belittle the individual. Sri Aurobindo in this chapter speaks of belittling the individual. That can be understood properly if you understand the whole trend of thought, which is very powerful in the state and therefore the opposite political theory has started saying every individual is free. His fulfilment is uppermost. Society is only a make-shift. State is a make-shift. That is why Bertrand Russell wrote a book Authority of the Individual and to show that this whole authority of the idea of the state is false. Authority can be only a part, a necessary evil, you might say. People do not normally gel with each other; therefore there is a need for some kind of a law, some kind of a big order. Having granted the public order every individual should be completely free, autonomy, self-will of the individual, his full fulfilment as he thinks is best – this is what is called Liberalism. Every individual should be free to determine his own, whatever he wants, he desires, who is the state to tell me what is good for me? Therefore in the West there is a tremendous dichotomy between the idea of individual freedom and the rule of the state. Now this is not merely an idea as you see in the case of Hitler, this idea was put into practise on this ground, highest good of the individual, the destiny of the individual is to be subservient to the state.
Now Hegel is a great precursor of Marx. The only difference between Marx and Hegel is that according to Hegel ultimately reality is idea, is spirit, he also calls spirit, according to Marx ultimate reality is matter. And this matter is manifesting little by little into groups, smaller groups, higher groups, higher groups through a dialectical movement, in which there is opposition between the lower movement and the higher movement, ultimately a synthesis is reached, in which the dichotomies will be all washed out. Ultimately there will be complete harmony of all but we have not reached that point. Why, because there is today great antinomy between individual and society and between two classes in society – the labourer and the capitalist and there is antagonism between the two. This antagonism is because the capitalists have gained power to such a degree that labourers can never defeat them, it’s impossible. Why because, capital is a big power, it has got gun powder with it. So that ultimately if anybody revolts against capitalism, the gunpowder of capitalism will throw it out, destroy that opposition. Then what is the solution? Solution is – call all the labourers together, unite all the labourers and before the capitalists can use the gun powder, you take the gun powder in your hands and eliminate them and you establish your sovereignty and then you are a state. Once you are a state, all people should obey you. This individuality, individualism, freedom, what is all this, you don’t know what is the best for you, the state knows the best for you, the state decides, the state is planning everything, whatever state plans you follow that plan that’s your goodness, that’s your highest welfare. Destiny of the individual is to be a part of the society, of the state, to follow the state. Once that happens the labourers now are wiser and they will eliminate all the capitalists, if they don’t obey they will be finished, therefore they don’t believe in non-violence. You just finish them and that is what happened in the Russian Revolution. And those who remained alive had to obey, they accepted to obey. So this idea of idealism has gone right up to communist idea. It is that idea which is China, which is now coming up in Nepal and which is coming up strongly in India. This is the force of this ideation; not only the question of destiny of the individual is extremely important. It is at our door actually today. We have to think out very clearly, what is the truth, what is really the individual, what is multiplicity, what is society, what is state, what is ultimate reality? It is against this background, I was saying the way in which this question was discussed in India has never been discussed in the West.
Now let us see how in India this question has been discussed. In Indian thought there was a discovery of unity or oneness. It was not only like in Plato conceived, universal was not only conceived but was sought to be experienced. And they arrived at a concept of experience of ekatvam to such an extent that the idea of moha and shoka could be eliminated from the very fibre of your being. And in that concept of oneness, the one was seen to have given birth to many, atma eva abhut sarvani bhutani, Atma itself became all these and this was affirmed on the basis of what they called vijantha. If you have the full knowledge, then you have the knowledge of the one that there is One, and that One has become many. This is the starting point of the argument of the whole Indian thought, as you can see the distinction between the dealing with the question. Philosophically it is true that Plato argued two similars required to be explained. Now this was a rationalistic approach. You start with some data and then you ask rationally why is it so, why must it be so. That’s a rationalistic approach, a search for explanation in terms of necessity, in search of meaning – that is rationalism.
In India this question also was raised but later on. The question was raised in terms of experience. Can you reach the highest possible experience? And there they use these words; knowledge means knowledge of oneness. Ignorance means knowledge of multiplicity. This whole concept of knowledge and ignorance as conceived in India is absent in the whole history of Western philosophy. The word ignorance does not mean what in India the word ignorance means. Ignorance in the West means partial knowledge, partial knowledge which gives partial perceptions; such perceptions can be remedied by a further expansion of the field of your knowledge and eliminate as much error as possible, and arrive at as much truth as possible. The arrival of complete elimination of ignorance is impossible, arrival at a complete knowledge is impossible. Complete arrival of truth is impossible, you can approximate more and more. Whereas here there is a clear statement – there is a knowledge, you possess knowledge of oneness. In the West the idea of oneness was only a conception. In Plato it is only an idea of universal as a concept, you cannot perceive it, you cannot experience it; even the whole of which Bradley speaks, of which Hegel speaks, even the communists speak of the whole − it’s only an idea. Nobody can experience the whole and nobody can have knowledge, which one can have if you could rise to the highest top and see all as one. In India this is the concept that you can, you can rise to a perception where you have a complete experience of oneness and you can see that this oneness gives rise to multiplicity. Not like in Plato that on non-existent, existent matter, things are printed and therefore they are only copies, particulars are only copies, multiplicity is nothing but consisting of plurality. Plurality is nothing but copies of the universal. Against that concept we have got here that atma eva abhut sarvani bhutani, atma eva abhut it became the one manifested the many. Multiplicity comes out of oneness, this is regarded as the vijantha. Complete knowledge consists of knowing the one and knowing one which gives rise to many. Ekam eva advitiyam, this is the reality bahusyam, bahusyami grappling with many and many became as a result of which you can say that Reality is Brahman which is one, you can also say sarvam khalu idam brahma, all this is also Brahman. So all plurality, multiplicity, all that you can call everything included, all manifestations sarvani bhutani are all manifestations of the One.
Now you must make a distinction between all constituting the whole – One, all constituting the whole – One, and One manifesting all. In the case of the first opposition, without All you cannot arrive at One, in the other one, One is the starting point. Out of Him, the many come out and these distinctions are very important in the final understanding of Ultimate Reality. It is not as if all put together is That One, as Sri Aurobindo says that Reality is not a sum or concourse. I think the very first sentence of this chapter, we have this sentence. Chapter five, first paragraph: “…the Reality is one and not a sum or concourse.” It’s a very important statement, what is the nature of the one? It’s not a sum or concourse; it is One, out of which multiplicity can manifest. We must be very particular, precise about this concept. The one of which it is spoken in Upanishad is not a sum or concourse, that Reality is One which is capable of manifesting multiplicity. If you want to understand the destiny of the individual, we must start with this proposition that individuals who are so many, multiple, they are not the starting point. In the pluralistic idea of the West, you start with the individuals and give them complete freedom and see that they don’t fight and therefore make what you call a block; but otherwise everyone is free to do what he likes. In the idealistic state all are there, you start with them but they are all bundled together, put them together and make one and then allow them to impose their will upon all the others. But basically even that one is the only concourse is the sum of all. Neither of these two concepts is identical with this concept. You start with the one, it is the One from which multiplicity arises. And Sri Aurobindo says when you use this word one and many, these are words not to be confused mathematically. One is not something that is more than zero and less than two, there is an oneness. And when you speak of multiplicity it is not plurality, its multiplicity. All that is manifested is multiple, not plural. How to conceive this mentally, intellectually? Sri Aurobindo says you require a new language actually if you want to express correctly and the best way is the word Brahman, it is essence and manifestation, the essence which expands.
So now we are introducing this paragraph, the concept of one, many, identification of the knowledge of one as knowledge; knowledge of multiplicity as ignorance and we have still not gone very far in the argument. Only it is to explain the burden of these words which are used, so that we become quite clear as to what is being meant. Now why is it that the word multiplicity came to be identified with the word ignorance, why, and what is ignorance? These questions have not been properly answered, although they are so capital, so important. They have remained unanswered for thousands of years, you might say. They are used, they are defined, they are debates. The very first time when ignorance was described was in the Veda with the word achitti and knowledge was called chitti. Achitti and Chitti according to Vedic knowledge have both to be understood and known and when you have both, then only you are in true knowledge. Achitti, and Chitti both are to be understood and known and when you have both, then only you have true knowledge. Achitti, and Chitti when both are known which is like Ishopanishad which says that ubhayam, vidhyam cha avidhyam cha both vidya and avidya, Veda ubhayam, you have to know both; it is that which Sri Aurobindo refers to here. It is only when you know ignorance and knowledge together that you have the true knowledge. That is the mystery that is the whole question which is debated in this chapter.
Let us now read that sentence again. It is by Vidya, the knowledge of oneness that we know God. This is the third paragraph, the end of the third paragraph. “It is by Vidya, the Knowledge of the Oneness, that we know God; without it Avidya, the relative and multiple consciousness, (a definition of avidya, relative and multiple consciousness is the definition of the word avidya) is a night of darkness and a disorder of Ignorance.” You can see the precision of Sri Aurobindo’s language. Ignorance is defined as the relative and multiple consciousness and this relative and multiple consciousness has been described as the night of darkness and a disorder of ignorance.
Yet if we exclude the field of that Ignorance, if we get rid of Avidya as if it were a thing non-existent and unreal, then Knowledge itself becomes a sort of obscurity and a source of imperfection. We become as men blinded by a light so that we can no longer see the field which that light illumines.
Such is the teaching, calm, wise and clear, of our most ancient sages. They had the patience and the strength to find and to know; they had also the clarity and humility to admit the limitation of our knowledge. They perceived the borders where it has to pass into something beyond itself. It was a later impatience of heart and mind, vehement attraction to an ultimate bliss or high masterfulness of pure experience and trenchant intelligence which sought the One to deny the Many and because it had received the breath of the heights scorned or recoiled from the secret of the depths. But the steady eye of the ancient wisdom perceived that to know God really, it must know Him everywhere equally and without distinction, considering and valuing but not mastered by the oppositions through which He shines.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Destiny of the Individual
In these three, four lines Sri Aurobindo gives the description of the entire history of the universe. He starts with the Upanishads; we start with the real definition of knowledge and ignorance. Then Sri Aurobindo said that that patience which harmonised One and Many that patience was lost in due course of time. Because to harmonise the two is very difficult and really time consuming but it is possible to rush to an experience of bliss. It is more difficult to reconcile the bliss with the problems of suffering in the world and there also to find bliss over there, it takes a longer time, takes a lot of patience, lot of effort. Because that patience was lost there came a debate, it was decided to say that the knowledge of the One is called vidya, multiple consciousness is avidya and avidya has to be thrown out and then one step farther which we were discussing last time. Avidya multiplicity is not only to be thrown away but to declare it to be non-existent. Philosophically you cannot throw away anything which is there; philosophically you have to take into account all. If many exist, if ignorance exists, philosophically you are obliged to explain it. But there was this impatience, therefore not only was ignorance and multiplicity thrown out but declared it doesn’t exist so you don’t have to explain it. You have to explain only if it really exists and somehow that problem remains and you are confronted with the problem, but if you ultimately agree that it does not exist at all then the problem is resolved.
In the case of Plato the problem was he said that this exists and this does not exist and in Indian Philosophy through Shankara it was said ‘the world and ignorance exist’, vyavaharika satta is there but does not exist. Ultimately it doesn’t exist and finally you say it never existed. First of all it exists, yes, yes I see it vyavaharika, then I say it is tuccha, it is trifle and then you say it is non-existent altogether, it never existed, it's only knowledge. So Sri Aurobindo says it is because of that reason that we have at present a big problem and we are not able to answer the question properly about the destiny of multiplicity and the individual.
It is only when we have again gained the patience of the Upanishads and we are prepared to go into all the vicissitudes of the problem that we will find the proper answer to the question. What is the individual and what is the destiny of the individual?
Now the rest of the chapter is a preparation for this long process.
I think we shall have to have another time to go through that. I was only trying to introduce this particular point that so long as we are impatient, we won’t be able to answer this question. It is possible to declare multiplicity is ignorance and even to say multiplicity does not exist and ignorance does not exist, it has been said. Evidently, intellectually it is not satisfying. This is one of the reasons why Westerners when they come to study Indian philosophy and when they grapple with this question of knowledge and ignorance, they find bewildered and they ultimately say there is only muddle headedness in India and ultimately everything is Maya, everything is false, everything is to be thrown out, go to Himalayas that is the only impression that they get ultimately after reading all this. And they are not wrong. The way in which we are expounding what we have done corresponds to the truth behind this kind of perception which is raised. Therefore we have to give a true account, a full account and give a true and proper answer.
Now to give that answer the whole book has to be read but in this chapter itself, Sri Aurobindo takes us rapidly, that’s why this chapter is difficult, it’s a rapid movement of thought which takes you straight to the answer of the problem and the rapid steps which are taken are a description of the world in which we live. The way in which the thought thinks about the world, the way in which our life-force reacts to the world. The terms in which we are working in the world and the levels at which we are working in the world. Mentally when you come to think of the world, I am only summarising now, this is an introduction. Mentally when you think the world appears either as an illusion or the world seems to be only real and spirit as illusion. This is how we see the world. These are the two ways by which we see. Sri Aurobindo summarises these two points of view rapidly. Secondly, the mind seeks harmony and so the life also seeks harmony. This is the second way in which we deal with the world as it is.
Then as we move forward we find that there are three terms in which life moves, mind moves, it is the summary of the whole experience of the world. These three terms are individual, universal and transcendental. The whole world, if you examine, is nothing but a transaction among these three terms, – individual, universal and transcendental and the whole history of thought is nothing but a history of a travel of the relation of these three terms. Thirdly, the whole world is nothing but a movement in which there is a constant rising from level to level, when you pass from material life, you try to reject all other styles of life, mental life, vital life, spiritual life. When you go to the vital life, you neglect the physical life. Some of the geniuses work day and night, they don’t care about their body. There is a creative impulse, so powerful, overnight you work up to five ‘o’clock in the morning, creative impulse and the body is rejected, need of sleep is rejected. When you go to mental life, then physical life is neglected, vital life is neglected. When you go to spiritual life, mental life is neglected, vital life is neglected, physical life is neglected, this is the whole world as we see it. Finally we see life moving at three levels. If you see the whole world there is a subconscient level, the conscient level and the superconscient level.
Now when you travel through all these levels of consciousness, when you debate the travel, this chapter is difficult because you can see how many things are said in the two pages, the whole thing is described. And there Sri Aurobindo points out, it is at that point you travel, you begin to understand where an individual stands and the truth of the individual begins to appear truly in this process. What do we perceive? The important point is the whole world is moving from the subconscient to the conscient and this conscient, we are all conscious beings. We conscious beings are not sitting silent, it is not as if now we are all having an armchair and doing nothing. We are striving to become more and more conscious whether we like it or not. We are striving to become superconscient, it’s inevitable, you are doing it, that is what Sri Aurobindo says is a fact. If anybody wants to question, let him question and then see, even his questioning arises because he wants to be more conscious than what he is. Even his question arises because you are doubting your own proposition because he says you are less conscious than I am, all our effort is to be more and more conscious. It is in this effort, in the effort in which we try to harmonise the standpoint which regards the world as an illusion or spirit as an illusion. In the movement in which you discover the transaction in which the individual, transcendental, universal and in an effort where physical life, vital life, mental life, spiritual life all are attempted to be integrated, as a result of which from the conscient life you trying to become superconscient, it is at this nodal point that the importance of the individual is realised. I am only concluding but for the sake of the answering the question we contemplate powerfully that although we are trying to move towards superconscient, we can never reach the superconscient unless the individual, this is the importance of the individual; unless the individual is able to discard the ignorance in himself, not in the whole world, in himself and attains a state of what is called knowledge, unless he himself is able to see oneness in multiplicity, so where neither multiplicity is thrown out nor oneness because that is the real knowledge. Unless he discovers in himself oneness and multiplicity, – that great message of the Upanishad ekatvam anupashatha, kah moha, kah shokha in which you say atma eva abhud sarvani bhutani, in which Atman itself became all vijantha, unless you get this knowledge, inwardly, individually, unless this happens this train will not be able to go farther. Whole world may do whatever you may like, you may go to the moon or Jupiter but the human train has reached such a point that you have got to recognise that individual, your greatest efforts were made by which each individual comes to realise that there is oneness which manifests multiplicity. This is the state of knowledge which he has to acquire individually himself and each one of us has to get it, then only what is designed in the world will be fulfilled. What is designed in the world is the divine life on the earth − Ras Lila, but this Ras Lila will not be possible unless every individual, individually is able to do this. That’s why this whole question of the destiny of the individual. What is an individual in which so much importance is given to it that unless that happens individually and that is what is demanded by the design of the world? If you look at the whole world, the whole world demands divine life, but don’t think divine life will come unless each individual arrives at this realisation. It is not partial knowledge of each one that combined together will create full knowledge, each individual has to have vijanatha and when that happens then we shall be able to play a role that will be the Ras Lila on this earth, physically. This is the answer of this chapter and then only the problem of pain, suffering will really go away, not only individually but collectively. If you really want total harmony of the world, if you really want to eliminate suffering in the world, injustice in the world, only then will it happen. This is the conclusion of this chapter.