Sri Aurobindo's - 'The Life Divine' - The Human Aspiration - Chapter I (2000, Super School Auroville) - Opening Session (19 January 2000)

There has been for quite some time a demand that we should concentrate on ‘The Life Divine’, the magnum opus of Sri Aurobindo. If you want to take it up, it has to be taken up with great care and resolution. It has to be done in a very systematic manner and with a long-range idea that it is to be a programme of considerable time. We should not expect it to finish, once you start it in a few lectures. It has not to be studied in a manner which would only give us a superficial acquaintance. I have very often felt that Auroville should be a nursery of talents, capacities and powers of communication, whereby works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother could be studied in their amplitude, in their fullness and there should be a continuous stream, so that teachers, students study all these works in a co-operative, collaborative manner. A work like ‘The Life Divine’ is a very difficult work. Some of the best experts in the world have come to the conclusion after having read a few chapters, that the book is very difficult.

Many of the people, who are qualified to study it, have not gone through it thoroughly. There are ideas which are incomprehensible. Even the scheme of the book is not easily seizeable. On the other hand there are a good number of scholars in the world who have studied ‘The Life Divine’ quite thoroughly well and they have proclaimed that this work is a great synthesis of the east and the west. Intellectually, it has been rated so high, that hardly any other work is comparable to it.

Mother herself has said in the ‘Agenda’, that ‘The Life Divine’ and ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’ are intellectually perfect and this word ‘perfect’ is really perfect. If you examine ‘The Life Divine’ from the technical point of view, from the point of view of the arrangement of ideas, arrangement of data, physical, psychological and the method of exposition, you can say that it is truly perfect. Those who have made a study of philosophy particularly, which involves technicalities of philosophical understanding, philosophical exposition, philosophical argumentation; they are bound to conclude that this work, by applying all canons of criticism, is perfect.

Mother has herself said at one time in Auroville that to study ‘The Life Divine’, you require ten years of preparation and this will give us a measure as to what kind of time we should devote to this great work. Why should we not? Ten years as compared to the amount of knowledge which is contained here, is a very short period. At least, there should be few people, who should take it up in that light, to be ready to study it for ten years. I have the assurance from a few people in Auroville, that they are prepared and that gives me a very great enthusiasm and I feel that it is an effort worth making. I thought that to begin a series of work-shops, not a work-shops but a series of work-shops because this is what I intend to have, if you really want to study. It should be done in an atmosphere of a work-shop, in a serious, dedicated attitude, putting into it all the work that it demands. There are some people who are reading ‘The Life Divine’ with me. They are giving 7-8 hrs daily of study, apart from 1-2 hrs with me periodically. This is the level at which I would like, by some students in Auroville, to take it up. It is a fact that most of you are very busy with a number of activities and it may not be possible to give that much time, one can give a great deal of time. We shall see later on, as we proceed further as to how this programme can be developed.

In the first place I would like to raise a question, what is the relevance of the study of ‘The Life Divine’ in Auroville? One easy answer is, what I have already given, that answer is that, Auroville is supposed to be a place where the vision of Sri Aurobindo is attempted to be given a concrete shape. Since ‘The Life Divine’ is one of the major works of Sri Aurobindo, it would naturally follow that a good knowledge of this major work is wide-spread in Auroville; this would be one answer to this question. But there is another question which is connected to this important point. It arises from the fact that ‘The Life Divine’ is fundamentally a philosophical work and there is in the programme of Auroville, a very important statement of the Mother, that we are here to do research through experience of the Supreme Truth. This is our programme. This word ‘experience’ is very important, the word ‘Supreme Truth’ is very important and both these terms have to be viewed against the background of that. Fundamentally, ‘The Life Divine’ is a philosophical work. When we say that it is a philosophical work, we need to understand that essentially it is an intellectual work.

Many people might legitimately argue that intellectual approach does not necessarily go well with the experiential approach. Intellect is a process of abstraction; intellectual thinking takes you to the realm of abstractions, takes you away from the concreteness, and takes you to the world of ideas and words taking you away from substance and possession, penetration of the substance. An experience means penetration and possession, therefore, a serious question can arise and must arise and we should raise this question at the very outset, as to why we should undertake such an exercise, which will involve an intellectual process of abstraction. Would it not hurt the basic programme of Auroville, which is experiential in character?

The answer is neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’, the first answer is that those who are already experiential, those who have already developed capacities of experience, capacities of perception of the inner truth and who feel that they are already moving in that direction, for them this study may not be altogether necessary. I say altogether, it may be necessary even for them, but it can be dispensed with.

In fact many students of Sri Aurobindo and his Yoga particularly, even advocate the view that too much of intellectuality, that the study of ‘The Life Divine’ might generate, is not very conducive to the field of experience of the spiritual truths and there is a strength behind this argument, which you must acknowledge. But let us see the other side of the picture. There is a relationship between intellect and experience, intellectual cultivation and spiritual cultivation.

There is a very important statement of Sri Aurobindo, where he says, “that while some people may be able to dispense with the intellectual approach to the truth, this approach cannot be avoided for the general collective development. Individually some people may dispense with an intellectual development but wherever you are dealing with the collectivity, this intellectual development, Sri Aurobindo says ‘it is of capital importance’, not only of importance but of capital importance. I would like to present to you a paragraph from one of the chapters of ‘The Life Divine’, so that you may have time to reflect on this important issue at the very outset, this is on page 878.

Sri Aurobindo says as follows:

Spiritual realisation and experience, an intuitive and direct knowledge, a growth of inner consciousness, a growth of the soul and of an intimate soul perception, soul vision and a soul sense, are indeed the proper means of this evolution: but the support of the reflective and critical reason is also of great importance; if many can dispense with it, because they have a vivid and direct contact with inner realities and are satisfied with experience and insight, yet in the whole movement it is indispensable. If the supreme truth is a spiritual Reality, then the intellect of man needs to know what is the nature of that original Truth and the principle of its relations to the rest of existence, to ourselves and the universe. The intellect is not capable by itself of bringing us into touch with the concrete spiritual reality, but it can help by a mental formulation of the truth of the Spirit which explains it to the mind and can be applied even in the more direct seeking: this help is of a capital importance.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - II: The Evolution of the Spiritual Man

This is a paragraph, which I would invite you to read several times because it tells you exactly the limitation of the work that we are undertaking and at the same time its importance and it reminds us of that as far as our life in Auroville is concerned, this is only a help that we must not therefore, neglect or in any case hinder or hamper the experiential approach to the true Truths, to the Supreme Truth. But since as I said for general development this is very important, even for individual development it can be of great help. It is only from this limited point of view, that I suggest we can have this programme.

Starting from page 887-880, these three pages deal with this question. I have read only the most important paragraph.

What is the meaning of a general collective development and why in a general collectivity development, this intellectual development is of fundamental importance. As Sri Aurobindo says, ”some individuals can dispense with it” but when it’s a question of a large collectivity, a large number of them will not be capable of a direct intuitive soul experience. Large number of people will need even when they have some spiritual feeling, even spiritual aspiration, they will need to develop an intellectual approach to the realities of the spirit.

Normally, human beings when they live at the level of the intellect cannot even imagine what it is to have a spiritual experience. There are a number of intellectual giants in the world, who do not understand what is meant by spiritual experience. This is a fact; they would even argue that spiritual experience, so called spiritual experience, they might say because they do not even grant the possibility of a spiritual experience, those who do not understand what is a spiritual experience. They would only say that the so-called spiritual experience is an emotional reaction to whatever is presented; and people give it a bombastic word calling it spiritual. There is a theory that not only spiritual experience, but even moral experience, which is of a lower nature, is nothing but an emotional reaction. When you say this is right and this is wrong, what is the guarantee that it is objectively right and wrong? It is simply dependent upon an individual's idiosyncrasies, inclinations and predilections, and one chooses and says this is right or chooses and says this is wrong.

There is a very important paragraph in one of the last chapters of the book by Bertrand Russell; it is one of the very big works called ‘The History of Western Philosophy’. He argues, why should I advocate peace in the world and why should people be kind? Actually he is a great advocate of peace. There is a very beautiful passage ‘Free Man’s Worship’, where he speaks of the need of free man to have qualities which are specially those, which are advocated by mystics; quality of patience, stoicism, endurance, disregard of consequence of action and kindness to people, genuine compassion for all creatures of existence. All these are beautiful qualities and he advocates them and yet this very author, when he examines, he says from the point of view of knowledge there is only one way of knowing, and that is the scientific way of knowing, he does not regard philosophical way of knowing as a very genuine way of knowing.

He grants some place to philosophy, he calls it no-man’s land. Philosophy according to him is a no-man’s land, it does not belong either to science, which is definite and it does not belong to religion, which is definite. Philosophy is a no-man’s land. It is neither science, nor religion; it falls in between the two, perhaps, it is even worse, perhaps it may be better to some extent, depending upon how we look upon it but such is the nature of philosophy, according to him. In any case genuine knowledge, the knowledge that can be called knowledge is according to him only scientific, only science is the right means of knowledge. He therefore disregards the claim of philosophers, to be capable of arriving at knowledge. There is no such thing according to him as philosophical knowledge. There can be speculations of philosophy, there can be hypotheses put forward by philosophy but philosophy according to him cannot make a statement, this is true. As for the statement, ‘this is true’, only science can say that.

There is a great force behind this statement. I myself agree in a very large manner, but from another point of view, not in the way he comes to this conclusion. There is at the very outset the question to understand the nature of philosophy, the nature of science, nature of knowledge and then to contrast all these to what we call spiritual knowledge.

This is an important discussion, particularly for us, who are swimming in the field of spiritual experience. We should be aware that this spiritual field has a great connection with the intellectual field, and this intellectual field has within it a good deal of controversy of the nature of science, nature of philosophy, nature of knowledge and the claims or disclaims of various kinds very much effect the spiritual world, not the spiritual pursuit.

There is a collectivity in the spiritual world and the collectivity consists of individuals at different levels of development. Many of them may be at the intellectual level, partly at least or predominantly, if not wholly and therefore, a spiritual world is greatly affected by what is happening in the intellectual field. If you want to give a good guideline to a spiritual world, we should have robustness by which we can understand the problems, which are raised by the intellectual world and place ourselves in the right relationship.

We must know what the difference is between scientific knowledge and philosophical knowledge. Then, we should be able to understand ‘The Life Divine’ better, because ‘The Life Divine’ is a philosophical work. Therefore, it has followed a philosophical method. It is not a scientific book; it’s not a book of science.

In contrast to ‘The Life Divine’, we have another book, ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’. ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’ has a different method. There philosophy is also used but the method of exposition is scientific in ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’, because Yoga is not philosophy, Yoga is science. Therefore, in ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’ Sri Aurobindo follows a different method of exposition. We must be able to appreciate from a technical point of view, how ‘The Life Divine’s’ method is philosophical and how the exposition which is done in ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’ follows a scientific method and it’s a scientific exposition and because there is a connection between philosophy and science, in one way or the other. You will find scientific method also in ‘The Life Divine’ and philosophical method also in ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’ but these are only subordinate

Why do we the intellectuals of today very largely believe that knowledge can only be scientifically interpreted? Why do they believe that philosophy is not the right method of arriving at knowledge? If this statement is true, that philosophy is not a useful method, then the relevance of ‘The Life Divine’ would be in question. What is the justification of writing such a great philosophical work, if philosophy is basically not a very useful activity?

The reason behind is this: in science you arrive at a conclusion by the basic method of observation of facts. You observe facts and your conclusion is strictly tied to the facts. It is true that in a scientific method you add to the observations certain other things, which are so-called permissible in the scientific pursuit. Therefore this constitutes part of the scientific method, observation is the starting-point of science, then experimentation is the second step, but experimentation has also the aim of collecting further facts which are normally not available directly without experimentation. This experimentation gives you additional facts, and then there is the question of coordinating these facts and those facts—facts by direct observation and facts by experimentation; and then you coordinate them. In the process of coordinating some intellectual process is involved.

Observation is not fundamentally a process of intellection. Observation is a part of experience, when you observe, you experience the facts. When you make an experiment it is also an experience of facts, additional facts. When you coordinate then intellection arises, it is added as it were, for coordinating purposes. To compare one set of facts with another set of facts. In fact if you ask the question, what is the origin of the intellectual movement, it starts, when you compare one sense experience with another sense experience, when two sense experiences are to be compared and this is the starting-point. You start an intellectual process when you compare. This is the special faculty of human beings that is why it is said that rationality is a special mark of human beings, which animals of lower order do not possess. This possibility of comparing one sense experience with another and then so many sense experiences with other sense experiences and the method by which you coordinate, that is the realm of intellectuality.

Comparison implies also a process of contrast; it also implies a process of analogy and more importantly, two important processes of what is called deduction and induction and then finally the process of what is called implication. So, you might say that the entire realm of intellectual development consists of these processes, ”comparison, contrast, deduction, induction, analogy and implication. Any activity in which you do these operations is intellectual in character. If it was possible for human beings to arrive at the totality of the whole world in one single experience, the whole world to be known directly by one experience then there is no need for the intervention of the intellectual operation at all. As long as I see and experience directly, I know it, the moment there is another experience and there is the question of the coordination of the two, intellectual development is involved.

There is a great connection between intellectual development and experiential development. This is very important to note. If however, you can arrive at one single experience of the totality of the whole world and all that is beyond the world, then there is nothing to compare with, no contrast, no inference, no analogy, no induction, no deduction, and no implication that is one single experience of knowledge.

Scientists however know that no experience is singly obtained. The scientist proceeds with ordinary levels of experience, sense perception, observation of sense perception and you know that sense perception is always having a limited field. Senses are not capable of bringing the entire totality in one sweep, such is not the nature of sense experience, it is not possible. The question is, is there any such possibility of having the totality of experience in one sweep? If not sensuous, any other? Scientists would say, let us have an example of such an experience, that is their approach.

As I told you, the distance between intellectual operations and sense experience on the one hand and the spiritual experience, is so great that most of the people who are only confined to sense experience and intellectual experience, they are not able to understand at all, not always but very largely they are incapable of understanding the possibility of a spiritual experience at all. Therefore, they would simply say that there is no such thing as spiritual experience. We should confine ourselves to sense experiences and intellectual operation, which aims at coordinating sense experiences of various kinds and whatever is the result of this is knowledge. Particularly when that knowledge expressed in language can be repeated, can be verified and can be falsified. These are the three marks, you should be able to repeat, able to verify, able to falsify. In the attempt of falsification, when you cannot falsify then you are obliged to accept it. Whatever is given to you should be at least capable of being falsified, attempts should be possible; this is what is now called scientific intellect, which consists of observation, explanation, analogy, implication, deduction and induction. This is all that science consists of.

The general trend today is to maintain that there can be excursions from these strict methods of pursuit of knowledge, excursions in the form of imagination, very largely it is the artist’s privilege to go into the realm of imagination. There can be formation of hypotheses. A hypothesis is a possible explanation of facts, so there can be intellectual operations of formulation of hypotheses, there can be speculations, but these are excursions, they are not strictly scientific in character.

About speculations in fact, Newton had said, “Hypothesis, non fin go”, “I cannot even imagine anything like a hypothesis.” A possible way of explaining, in which you can speculate whether this can be the explanation or that can be a explanation in a strictly scientific process, even hypothesis formation, he does not accept, although many scientists today accept this hypothesis formation but you can see, how, in a purely strict scientific process, what is called speculation is avoided. People may grant there is something like a speculative process but this speculative process is only an amusement, it does not lead you to any knowledge. It is therefore argued that anything that you arrive at by imagination, merely by hypothesis formation or by speculation is not strictly called knowledge.

It is argued that that since philosophy,………… which moves out of the totality of the whole field of experience, this is the speciality of the intellectual process of rationality and particularly of philosophy that philosophical reason, philosophical intellectual perception is capable of withdrawing from the total field of experience and sitting over it, as it were. This is what is called the critical functioning of the intellect. A critical functioning is to go above whole field of experience and watch the whole field of experience and claim that this process of going above the field of experience is a very superior method and by this method whatever conclusions you arrive at is of a greater significance and a greater validity, is the claim of the philosophers, as opposed to the claim of the scientists.

Let us examine this aspect, because that will give us the key to the entire method of ‘The Life Divine’. Why Sri Aurobindo expounds the way in which he expounds the whole theme of ‘The Life Divine’; it is by following the philosophical method. The essentiality of the philosophical method is to take the entire field of experience and to brood over it and then apply the canons of reasoning to judge whether such and such experience is possible or not possible. This is how philosophical thinking works. An experience is proposed, another experience is presented, a third experience is presented; a philosopher examines the claims of all these experiences. In order to arrive at a judgment, whether such and such experience is possible or impossible and if possible to what extent, and by what means can you affirm the validity of this experience or that experience. This is what is called specially the philosophical method. A critical understanding of experience, a critical judgment of experience, a critical overview of the realm of experience is a speciality of the philosophical method.

Sri Aurobindo says, the primary function of the intellect, is understanding, to understand whether it is scientific or philosophical, understanding is the common ground, in both the processes of science and philosophy there is a process of understanding. Understanding is to stand below, to stand under an object and to look upwards and try to grasp what it is, that is understanding. The critical understanding tries to rise above the object and then to make a judgment. Sri Aurobindo has used in ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’ also the word over standing, when you arrive at a spiritual experience, intuitive experience, you are able to stand above the object and grasp and possess the object, as it were from above. That is the superiority of the intuitive knowledge, you do not get subjected to and you are not standing under the weight of the object, which is the fact in the process of understanding, you are not even trying to go above it, because critical understanding is an effort always to lift oneself from understanding to rise to a higher level of judgment it’s an effort which is very limping, it’s is a lame effort. Although, critical thinkers believe it is one of the greatest achievements but from the higher point of view this is a limping effort, you go higher above and when you go above and over standing then the object is possessed concretely and there can be no error in it. Both in the understanding and in the process of critical understanding or judgment there is always a possibility of an error, but when you stand above and grasp it, there is no error.

That is why it is said, intuition is free from error. If it’s a true intuitive knowledge, and there is no error possible, that is a mark. Very often intuition is not understood properly, even guessing something is called intuition. That is not true. Very often, one says I guess it so well, I intuitioned it so. In guessing there is no intuition. It may be an effort at going above whatever you have understood for the moment, you are essaying possibilities, but true intuition, and it is devoid of error. It is certain, it is sure. There is a certainty in intuitive knowledge. That is the process of over standing. But in this critical process, which we are considering, which is the speciality of philosophical thinking, the true philosophical thinking is critical thinking.

So long you only observe, and coordinate, deduce and induce, there is no critical thinking, it is only a recording with a greater sophistication, when you record the facts as you see, it is scientific, rigorous, accurate, verifiable, repeatable, but it is not critical. A critical thinking first of all becomes aware of all the assumptions which are present in the observation. When I observe an object, normally, I am not aware of the assumptions under which I am observing.

Human beings are not so wide awake that when they observe things, they are also aware of the context in which they are observing, the assumptions under which you are observing. I will simply give you an example, If you lock your room and go out, when nobody is present, either in the room or outside the room. You go out and come back and you see the room intact, as you had left it. You are observing, the first observation was of the room in a certain position ‘x’, you go out and come back and you see the room again in the position ‘x’, you are sure that the room is continuing to exist exactly as it was before. When you come back and you see the room exactly as it was earlier, you assume, now, I am using the word ‘assume’ that the room or you conclude, perhaps; the better word is assumption, you assume that the room was exactly as it was during your absence.

A critical reflection would ask you the question, how do you know that the room was exactly in the same position as you left and as it appeared when you came back. It is a critical reflection, it was exactly like before, but are you sure that during your absence the room did not disappear altogether. How do you know that it did not? It could have, is there any guarantee that it could not and it did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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