Isha Upanishad - Super school - Auroville - Session 6: Conception and the Method of Philosophy

(4 February 2003)

This Upanishad that we are studying is as I told you a prayer, a prayer which emerges from knowledge, all that we are reading so far is only the knowledge; the prayer will come only towards the end after knowledge is established. The prayer emerges at the end, verses 17 and 18 these are the two verses of prayer at the end. This prayer can be understood only if we have a good foundation of knowledge and this knowledge is complex in character.

The prayer first of all describes what movement is and then what is behind the movement. Yesterday we were studying the mystery of this movement by a few words, which are juxtaposed and the words which are opposite of each other; that which moves not and that which moves, the same reality that which moves not and that which moves, that standing which is always in front, that standing which is swifter than the mind, that standing, which can never be overtaken by the gods, even who are moving faster and faster but they can never overtake that, these are the statements not of philosophy but of experience.

The Method of Philosophy and the Method of Experience

There is a difference between the method of philosophy and the method of experience. In the method of philosophy there is analysis of concepts, we need to understand the concept of the concepts. What is concept; it is a concept which distinguishes philosophy from science. Science is the study of the object by means of observation, by means of experimentation, by means of verification. You go to the laboratory of physics, chemistry, astronomy or physiology or any science, you will find objects that you can touch, you can smell, you can manipulate, you have the experience of observation; so observation then you experiment and then you come to a conclusion that conclusion is called the knowledge, but scientific knowledge.

In philosophy you don't have an object which you can touch, which you can experiment with; in philosophy we have concepts. Concept of becoming, the concept of movement that moves constantly, this experience of becoming, this concept of becoming is very near to the experience of science, therefore, the concept of becoming is one of the easiest concepts to understand because becoming is what we understand more easily. We ourselves are constantly in motion, all the motion by itself is a concept. It is easily understood because we are constantly in motion ourselves, we walk about, we breathe, there is a constant movement of change and therefore, it is easy to understand. But then there is the concept of infinity, there is a concept of eternity, and the concept of stability, there is a concept of essence, there is the concept of the One, the concept of the identical, these are not directly experienced by us.

We do not experience infinity, we do not experience eternity, we do not experience essence; these are all concepts philosophy analyses these concepts through a method different from the method of science.

Consistency in Philosophy

This method is the method of comparison of one concept with the other. In the process of comparison, you have the process of contrast then you have the process of synthesis, the two concepts are compared, the two concepts are contrasted and then the concepts are synthesised, this is the philosophical method. In the method of synthesis there are two important processes involved, the process of consistency and the process of comprehensiveness. All synthesis implies the process by which you try to conceive consistency. What is consistency; let us ask ourselves what is consistency?

Answer: Solidity.

If I say, I'm riding, not riding, if I say this there is no consistency. This is what is called logic, normally. I'm riding, not riding; you reject the proposition, saying it is not consistent. So, philosophy is an attempt to unite concepts on the basis of consistency. You bring so many concepts in your box and then try to see whether they are consistent with each other or not.

Consistency would mean what is called in mathematics an attempt at identity. You arrive at a statement ‘this’ is the same as ‘this’, this concept is actually the same as this. Eternity and infinity are the two concepts and if you want to understand philosophically, your question is whether they are consistent with each other or not, infinity and eternity, do they join together or do they collide with each other, they are opposite to each other.

Consistency does not mean what is called tautology; this is a word which you should understand. Tautology is a statement in which you repeat in the predicate what is in the subject. You take any sentence, it will have two parts. This cat is white, there are two parts, cat is subject and white is predicate. Tautology is, ‘this cat is cat’, is tautology. This cat is white, is not tautology. The predicate tells you something more then what you say in the beginning then the subject. So, when the predicate tells you something more, then it is not a tautology. But in order that this sentence is correct, you should be sure that whiteness and cat do not contradict each other. To be a cat and to be white, should not be contradicting each other, therefore you say this sentence is correct. But when you say that they are not contradictory, it means that whiteness can belong to a cat, therefore, there is some kind of identity between the cat and the whiteness.

All philosophical thinking aims at arriving at a conclusion, it may be a long sentence ultimately but every term in the sentence must be consistent with all the others; this is the attempt of philosophy. If I say, ‘x’ is eternal, infinite, one, many, so many propositions you put down, so many terms you use, in order that it is philosophically valid, you should establish that they are all consistent with each other.

I was just telling you, what the difference between scientific method and philosophical method is. In scientific method the knowledge is derived by direct touch of the object. Here you can't touch, infinity can't be touched, eternity can't be touched, essence cannot be touched. So, without touching these objects, without experimenting with these objects, you conceptually, in your own concept, in your mind, you rotate these ideas and see whether they cohere with each other, they are consistent with each other. This is the method of philosophical thinking and then I said not only consistency but it should be comprehensive. What is comprehensive, a philosophical statement should be comprehensive.


A philosophical should include everything that can be conceived. In science it need not be comprehensive, physics as a science does not include the study of everything, it excludes the study of life that is studied by biology. Physics deals only with matter, biology deals with life, so physics need not be comprehensive, biology need not be comprehensive but philosophy is comprehensive, it includes everything.

Whatever statement you ultimately make in philosophy, it should be a vast comprehensive statement, as large as ‘The Life Divine’ the whole book. If you have seen the book,‘The Life Divine’, one thousand pages and more, it's a long statement and a large statement of one thousand pages. It's a great book of philosophy because it is consistent and comprehensive; it deals with all that exists, all that is conceivable, all that is conceived. It contains also that which is not conceivable but which is conceived to be inconceivable. So, all concepts and concepts of that even of that which is not conceivable, such a large statement that is the speciality of philosophy, it is consistent and comprehensive.

Remark: I don't understand concepts that cannot be conceived?

Answer: Good, I deliberately used that word, so that it may not be conceived. Conception of that which is not conceivable, conception of, not what is not conceived; there is a difference between concept of the unconceived and the concept of the inconceivable. Have you conceived of a horse with wings?

Comment: By imagination?

Answer: So, you can say the horse with wings ordinarily I do not conceive but in imagination, I can conceive. You have the conception of it. Now, if I ask you the question, can you conceive of a unicorn, once again you can conceive, you've not seen, you've not experienced but you can say that it can be conceived. Do you ever use the expression that I have no conception of it at all, I have no idea, have you used any such expression in your life?

In philosophy the question is, you should be able to conceive at the highest level, conceivable is conceivable at the highest possible level, if you can't conceive at this level but if you can conceive at a higher level it becomes conceivable. The mark of philosophical thinking is that you've striven hardest to arrive at conception even that which you cannot normally conceive, you strive to conceive it. If you fail then you say it is inconceivable, you try your hardest to conceive, having done your hardest and you still cannot conceive then you say it is not conceivable.

Remark: If I can't conceive that does not mean it is inconceivable,

Answer: You're right; therefore, you should go to the wisest. In philosophy, if you say, ‘well! I don't accept it's not enough.’ You should say I have gone round the whole world, knocked every door and asked this question that's the mark of a philosopher.

A philosopher is one who has been trying to conceive the highest, the best and most comprehensive, whatever is the most comprehensive; you should be able to strive at it and yet you arrive at some things which are not conceivable. Take for example, there is a concept now in modern physics, there are two words in modern physics which are very important, ‘particle’ and ‘wave’,− particle is conceivable, wave is conceivable. I ask you the question, give me your understanding of the word ‘particle’, what is it?

Answer: Dot.

Good, now compare it with the idea of a wave. What is the wave, a lot of dots in a special manner, right? A wave should really be a wave; not only so many dots put together; it should be wavy in character. Now, a dot, or a particle is conceivable, a wave is conceivable but if I say: particle is the same as wave; try to conceive it. The particle is the same as a wave, a particle which is a dot is also a wave.

If I say this, try to conceive, can you conceive?

Remark: If the particle is moving?

Answer: Even if it moves, can it remain a particle? When it moves, it may make a wavy movement but is it itself a wave, its motion can be wavy but is it itself a wave? My question was first, what is conceivable and what is not conceivable. But the fact is that I'm trying to give an example of that which is not conceivable.

Now, modern physics says that there is the same thing, which you call a particle is also the wave, this is the new discovery of modern physics. And physicists are all surprised themselves. This is a good example of inconceivability. But as you said rightly, it can be true. Therefore mere inconceivability is not the mark of unreality.

Philosophy is precisely this exercise, what is conceivable and what is not conceivable and not conceivable therefore untrue, and not conceivable and yet true. When you arrive at this distinction, you have arrived at the heart of philosophical thinking. Spiritual experience has a different method, we were trying to see scientific thinking, philosophical thinking and now we have a third level and that is of spiritual experience.

What is spiritual experience? A good definition to start with,—spiritual experience is perception but not perception like that of a stone or a pebble or moon or sun, which you can physically see. A spiritual experience is the experience of the inaudible, of the invisible that which you cannot see with your eyes that which you cannot touch and yet you can see. So, spiritual experience is perception, this is the definition which we gave and I admit; spiritual experience is a perception but perception of the invisible and the inaudible.

Question: Hearing and seeing is also the spirit?

Answer: Yes, it's true, even this chair is spiritual. When I say that this chair is spiritual, what exactly do I mean? But it is not exactly the spiritual element in your perception is not that which is visible; it is the invisible aspect of this chair, which I say is spiritual. When I touch this chair and I touch it with reverence it is because I see in it that invisible to be the object of my reverence. This chair may be the teacher, whom I revere very much and sits on and when I touch that chair, I see the seat of Buddha or seat of the Divine Mother. There is something else than the physical that I see, which I call spiritual, which also I see but see not physically. So the minimum mark of spirituality is that it is invisible and inaudible. Although it can be visible physically also and it can be audible also physically but its speciality and its essentiality is, it is the experience of that which is the invisible and the inaudible.

A spiritual knowledge need not be comprehensive. In philosophy we mark the idea of comprehensiveness. Spiritual knowledge need not be comprehensive but can be comprehensive. So, now we have three distinctions: scientific knowledge, philosophical knowledge and spiritual knowledge. In spiritual knowledge you try to be as comprehensive as possible but it can be continuously progressive, there are depths and depths of experience, heights after heights of experience, widenesses of experience. You can continuously grow in spiritual experience; you become more and more integral.

It is found that when you arrive at the highest experiences, you have surprising statements, just as in physics if you go to the absolute depth of matter, you have particle–wave duality, similarly when you reach some of the spiritual experiences and descriptions of them, you find something inconceivable, just as particle–wave is inconceivable and yet a fact. Similarly in spiritual experience also you arrive at the inconceivable.

‘The One is other than itself and yet remains itself’, I make this statement. This is one of the famous sentences of the Rig Veda.

It is Itself but moves by Itself, which is also Itself, It is Itself which moves by other then Itself, which is yet Itself.

“nanum asti no swaha, kas tad veda yat adbhutam, ansyas chitam abhisanchareniyam, utadhitam vinashayati”

It is Sanskrit, you may not understand it, this is the full sentence of the Rig Veda. It says that which I see spiritually is neither here nor will it be tomorrow, but I see that which is neither here nor will it be tomorrow; who can know it, this is a question mark that the Seer puts us, who can know it; it is wonderful. The very statement shows that this is something very surprising that which I see is neither here, nor will it be tomorrow, who knows it that which is wonderful. Then it says, it is itself but moves by another, which is itself, it is itself, which moves by another which still is itself, when you think of it, it vanishes. It is inconceivable, that is when you think of it you can't conceive of it. So, it is inconceivable, when you try to conceive, it vanishes, you cannot hold it in your concept.

All this is to introduce to you the two sentences, which you read yesterday because we spoke of certain statements which are inconceivable that which is not moving is swifter than the mind, this is inconceivable but this is what the Upanishad describes. “One which is unmoving is swifter than Mind”. A statement which is inconceivable but that is what the Upanishad gives you and it also says that although it stands and when you run, you find, it always remains standing before you. You run and if it only stands and you run, if it does not run at all at the same time, it will remain stationary where it is? But this Upanishad says, it stands and if you run and however much you run; you will always find it standing in front of you. If you want that object but supposing you don't want that object, it is such a surprising object that even if you don't want that object, and you run, you will always find it to be in front of you without running. That is the description. Whether you want it or not, if you want, of course, you can always stand before it then you don't need to run but suppose you don't want and you run but wherever you run and however fast you run, you find it is always in front of you. Such is the magic of this Reality. On the other hand, it is such that even the gods who run the fastest, even they cannot reach it, even by running fastest, you cannot reach it.

The physicists who say the particle is the same as the wave, it's a similar statement. It's true but not conceivable; they know it is not conceivable.

Question: How do they know?

Answer: It’s a fact. I’m very happy, this is exactly the point I wanted to underline. There is a way of knowing, which is beyond conceivability or inconceivability, that is the spiritual experience, therefore philosophical knowledge is different from this whole domain of spirituality.

Question: The Rishis understood this through meditation?

Answer: Meditation is one of the methods, not the only method but one of the methods.

You're shocked by the statement that is made and makes you alert what is it, is it abracadabra, it could be. It is also a question for you, somebody who's talking to you, is a bad man but before you prove that he's a bad man, you should be sure that he's a bad man how will you prove?

Which is not philosophy, which is not science; it is a spiritual experience that is the nature of spiritual experience. Most of the people may deny it and say ‘Oh! It’s all fantasy, fine.’ Never try to convince anybody, the reality is what it is. And ultimately, if you are really seeking the best, the highest, you cannot escape it because that is the highest. You can't escape it and then you will understand, it is not that it is unknowable, it is inconceivable but not unknowable. There's a difference between the two, it is inconceivable but knowable, you know it because you are that. Actually speaking that which stands and moves faster is yourself, this is what the Upanishad says tells you. What are you? You are actually this; that you always stand even when there is a constant running.

The motion is inconceivable basically, really speaking, we don't understand motion, we don't understand time, we don't understand space. These are three things, which we think we understand, but when we examine them, we find that we don't understand. Time, we think, we understand that this was that two minutes ago and this is now here and something else will happen next time and I think I understand time. Space also I understand; this is one space here, the second space, there is a third space here, I understand. Motion also, I understand. I think I'm here now and I moved this way, that is motion, very easy.

You don't require a spiritual experience to tell you that even these three concepts are not conceivable without spiritual experience; you can show philosophically that these are inconceivable. When you have time and you have a curiosity about it, I shall take you to a philosophical way of understanding space–time and motion; and show you that it is inconceivable. So, even philosophically it is not conceivable, although you may think it is very conceivable, all the time we are in space, time, causality, motion, all the time.

But really speaking, truly, what is motion, just to take one example. What is motion? This is a mystery, if you have asked the question, what is motion,

Remark: Changing places.

Answer: Good, what is it that changes, you perceive it, you examine at what point it changes? But you examine at what point has it changed? Is it really so, that when you think that it has changed, has it really changed?

Remark: No, nothing changed.

Answer: It is a great wisdom. If you examine the question, what changed? The moment which is passed is no more there; the present moment before you get there, it is gone. What is it that has changed that which is passed does not exist anymore, so that does not change that which is now before you, before you grasp it, it is gone the future has not yet come into existence. What is it that has changed?

Remark: Position of yourself. You are playing with the words.

Answer: No, you are playing with the words now, I'm not playing, I’m only asking you the question: what is it that has changed, what has changed, what is it that has changed?

Remark: The energy has changed?

Answer: That which is changed has remained the same?

Remark: It is the same thing, which has changed and is just transformed.

Answer: You know this is one of the great statements of Buddhism, is there something that changes? What is it that changes? What is that, what is it, that’s exactly the question?

Answer: It can be the manifestation.

The manifestation is all the time moving, what is it? There is movement but is there something that moves that is the question?

No, you think you're moving that's all, I'm only asking you if it is a fact, you may be thinking is it a fact. In fact it may or may not be, according to your thinking that is where the problem is. Philosophically you may think something is right but philosophically it may not be right, that's why I say that you think you know space, I think I know time. But is it really true that I know it, that’s the question, by not asking, you do not escape the reality.

Question: Is there also a word for philosophy in Sanskrit?

Answer: Darshan, which means to know, to perceive that which is not inconceivable but experience able. What you conceive can also be perceived and what you cannot conceive can also be perceived. So, to rise to that level where the inconceivable is perceived, that is a great height of your spiritual experience. In other words the reason why I took you to this exercise today and did not move forward, did not go to verse number five, was exactly to show that it is not easy or enough merely to read these sentences. We must have a sense of wonder about these statements, these are wonderful statements. Statements which invite us to wake up; something is told to us strikes our brain, mind and we are invited to make the journey that is the real purpose of the Upanishad. A good teacher is one who invites you and throws you into a journey, that's a good teacher. Who just looks at you speaks to you or tells you something and you're set on a journey. That is the journey we shall continue, this journey is actually the beginning of the journey of this Upanishad.