The Life Divine - The Refusal of The Ascetic

The Refusal of The Ascetic

Chapter III
(The Life Divine)

The Two Negations

The Refusal of The Ascetic

But even if we reach the Cosmic Consciousness, we have not yet reached the summit. There is still a beyond. It is transcendent not only of the ego but of the Cosmos itself. That transcendental supports the Universal, − or perhaps only tolerates it; it embraces life with its vastness, or else rejects it from its infinitudes.

Just as the Materialist bases his Philosophy on the ground of the all engrossing experience of matter, even so the Sanyasin, basing on his experience of the all engrossing experience of the spirit declares that spirit alone is real.

Just as the Materialist rejects this experience of the spirit as a dream of the mind or as an abstraction of Thought, and therefore divorced from reality, even so the Sanyasin declares the world as a creation of the Mind and the senses, and even a dream and an abstraction.

Every philosophy tries to argue on the basis of logic and of experience. But surprisingly, what justification, of logic or of experience, which supports one extreme philosophy is met by a justification, of logic or of experience, which supports the exactly opposite stand points of philosophy.

In this situation, the resolution of the conflict can be arrived at only by extension of Consciousness which in its Universality, can unite the two opposing tendencies and arrive at a synthesis in which the truths of the opposing stand points are so reconciled that each of the opposites finds in it a full affirmation and fulfillment.

Let us take the position of the Materialist. He affirms the world of matter on the ground that physical senses experience matter alone, and therefore, matter alone is real. This argument is valid as far as it goes; but does it remain sustainable? We discover, first of all, that the argument of the Materialist commits the fallacy of a vicious circle. It assumes precisely what it sets out to prove, and in the conclusion it reiterates its premise without proving it. That matter is real is of course established by the fact that physical senses can experience only the physical reality. But it does not prove the following statement which is its first premise, namely, that physical senses are the only means of knowledge.

Hence, it can be said that Materialism is a primitive form of thought and it does not go beyond the premise with which it starts. We argue like an uninstructed villager who tries to prove the conclusion by the premise and the premise by the conclusion. There is actually no argument but only unphilosophical statement of the existence of matter and the sole reality of the matter.

However, if the Materialist wishes to prove his position, he can do so only by disproving the existence of the supra-physical or the existence of the supra-physical senses. But that will require extension of consciousness which can enter into supra-physical world and can exercise supra-physical faculties. And the moment this extension of consciousness is effected or even attempted, one finds that matter itself has supra-physical states, which do exist but which cannot be experienced physically. Similarly, there are also senses which are supra-physical. These supra-physical senses can experience the physical world without the aid of the physical organs; it can also bring us into contact with other realities which are supra-physical and which belong to another world.

The Refusal of The Ascetic

The Refusal of The Ascetic

In fact, human experience and belief have constantly asserted the supra-physical reality and the supra-physical faculties. But in our own times, fresh evidences are increasing to the phenomena of telepathy and similar other experiences. These evidences can no more be resisted unless one remains shut up in the brilliant shell of the past or by minds which are acute but limited through the limitation of their field of experience and inquiry. They are also being resisted by those who confuse enlightenment and reason with the faithful repetition of the formulas left to us from the recent century of the Materialist thought.

It is true that the results of research in telepathy and similar phenomena are yet ill-affirmed because of the imperfection of the methods of the research. But the existences of subtle senses have been found to be true witnesses to physical facts which are beyond the range of the corporeal organs. There is, therefore, no justification to deny when they give report of supra-physical facts which lie beyond the domain of the material world.

When we thus extend consciousness, it becomes possible to affirm that worlds beyond the material world exist, that they have their own laws of formation and movements and their own just and luminous means of knowledge. It is also found that they exercise influence on our physical existence and in our physical body; they have also their means of manifestation and they can communicate their messages to our physical organs and to our physical world.
But once we admit the supra-physical, we are led to affirm the supremacy of experience and of consciousness that is involved in experience. As a consequence, it has come to be argued that the physical world comes to be affirmed only because of consciousness in experience; there is no proof of the existence of anything except through consciousness; it is even argued that the physical world depends for its existence on our consciousness and that our consciousness is the creator of the physical world or of all the worlds of experience.

 As against this contention, it is argued that consciousness can't be regarded as the creator of the physical world existed in the evolutionary history as we know it, as self-existent and that consciousness came into existence much later.

These two arguments have remained in conflict, and they have remained sharply divided not only in their metaphysical positions but also in respect of the effects they have produced in regard to the aim of life which they have attempted to promote.

The materialistic conclusion, when pushed far enough, arrives at the insignificance and unreality in the life of the individual and race. From this two options arise logically. One option is to advocate a feverish effort of the individual to snatch what he may from a transient existence, and to "live his life". Another option is to advocate a dispassionate and objectless service of the race and the individual is a transient fiction of the nervous mentality and the race is only a little more long lived collective form of the same nervous spasm of matter. It will be seen that materialism is like spiritual monism in several respects both look upon the life of the individual and the race as the insignificant and unreal, and both look upon the world as manifested before us as phenomenal and transient, — something that is and yet is not, — a character that characterizes Maya.

The Refusal of The Ascetic

The Refusal of The Ascetic

Actually, spiritual monism stresses too much the unreality of the objective world and advocates more trenchant conclusion. It advocates very sharply the fictitious character of the individual ego; it advocates also and equally sharply the unreality and purposelessness of human existence. Finally, it proposes the return into the Non-Being or relationless Absolute as the sole rational escape from the meaningless tangle of phenomenal life.

We may ask the question as to how these two positions − materialistic monism and spiritualistic monism can be reconciled or how their respective arguments can be answered with definitive conclusiveness.

When we reflect upon this question, we shall find that we can't arrive at the required solution by logic arguing on the data of our ordinary physical existence. These data are incomplete; they betray always a hiatus of experience; hence all arguments based on these data are rendered inconclusive. For example, is there any definitive experience among our data of physical existence which would justify as in supposing that our subjective self really depends upon the physical frame and can neither survive it nor enlarge itself beyond the individual body? We have at this stage no definitive experience of a cosmic mind or super mind not bound up with the life of an individual body. In order to arrive at a conclusive argument, the only way left is to institute an extension of the field of our Consciousness or else, we should bring about an incredible increase in our instruments of knowledge.

If our program of extension of Consciousness has to be satisfied, we must be able to bring about an inner enlargement from the individual into the Cosmic existence. It is then that we shall see that the world is not a product of the individual embodied mind but a Cosmic Consciousness. This Cosmic Consciousness is not merely a witness of Cosmic existence but even its Lord who embraces the Universe and works in the Universe as its Immanent Intelligence.

In recent times, the possibility of a Cosmic Consciousness in humanity is coming slowly to be admitted. Modern psychology admits also the possibility of more elastic instruments of knowledge, even though it is still pronounced to be a hallucination. On the other hand, Cosmic Consciousness has always been recognized as a reality and the aim of our subjective progress.

According to the data of the Cosmic Consciousness, we can, when we enter into that Consciousness, continue to dwell upon Universal existence. We can become aware of matter as one existence and of bodies as its formations. Similarly we can also experience life as one existence and mind as one existing of manifesting that oneness in its multiplicity. We can also, if we choose, become aware by rising upwards through many linking stages of a super mind and find that the super mind is the key to all lesser activities. A time can come when we can live in it as we now live today in the ego sense. And when we live in that Consciousness, we find ourselves unified more and more with other minds, other lives, other bodies, and we can even produce effects on the physical worlds and events.

The Refusal of The Ascetic

The Refusal of The Ascetic

Therefore, one who has contact with the Cosmic Consciousness and one who lives in it, this Cosmic Consciousness is real in itself, real also in its effects and works. It is then that we conclusively find that the world is real precisely because it exists only in Consciousness; for it is a Conscious Energy one with Being that creates it.

But that conscious being with which the Conscious energy is one and which is the truth of infinite super mind, is more than the Universe. That Conscious Being lives independently in its own inexpressible infinity as well as in the Cosmic harmonies. World lives by that; That does not live by the world.

And just as we can enter into the Cosmic Consciousness, even so we can enter into that, into the world — transcending Consciousness and become superior to all Cosmic existence.

It is a rejection of the Universe? In other words, what solution has this universe to the Beyond?

This question arises because at the gates of the Transcendent stands that mere and perfect spirit described in the Upanishads, luminous, pure, sustaining the world but inactive in it, without sinews of energy, without flow of duality, without scar of division, Unique, identical, free from all appearance of relation and multiplicity. This is the spirit described as the pure self by the Vedantic monists, Advaitins. This pure self is the inactive Brahman, the transcendent silence. And it is a fact that the mind when its passes those gates suddenly, without intermediate transitions, receives a sense of the unreality of the world and sole reality of the silence which is one of the most powerful and convincing experiences of which the human mind is capable. It is also possible not only to have the experience and realisation of this silence but even of a greater silence which has been described as the Non-Being. It is on the basis of this perception that has given rise to the second negation; exactly opposite of the first negation, − the materialistic denial. This second negation is of the ascetic; − the refusal which is more complete, more final, more perilous in its effects on the individuals or collectivities that hear its potent call to the Wilderness.

The Refusal of The Ascetic

The Refusal of The Ascetic

This refusal of the ascetic which declares insignificance and meaningless of individuality and even of Universality that has dominated increasingly the Indian mind since the last two thousand years, — since Buddhism disturbed the balance of the old Aryan World. The sense of cosmic illusion is not, indeed, the whole of Indian thought. There are many other philosophical statements, there are many other religious aspiration. Even the most extreme philosophies have made some attempts to arrive at some adjustment between the spirit and the matter. But the great refusal has tendered to overshadow them all, and its message of the final end of life for all has influenced dominantly all other messages. There has been a further associated doctrine that has been derived from the Buddhistic theory of the chain of Karma which declares that karma is not consistent with liberation, that karma implies bondage, that bondage comes by birth, and the liberation comes by cessation from birth. Therefore all voices are joined in declaring that this world of our cannot ever become a Kingdom of heaven, that Kingdom of heaven is beyond this world in which we live, in the eternal Vrindavan of joys and ecstasies, the Brahmaloka of high beatitude, or else it is the only right thing to go beyond all manifestations in some ineffable Nirvana or where all separate experience is lost in the featureless unity of the indefinable Existence.

This negativistic message has filled many centuries in Indian history and a great army of saints and teachers have contributed to the reiteration of the same lofty and distant appeal which declares: Renunciation is the sole path of knowledge; acceptation of life is the act of the ignorance; cessation from birth is the right use of human birth. This is the call of the spirit which pronounces the recoil from matter. How shall we react to the refusal of the Ascetic?

Our present age in the age of dynamism; it is the age of the affirmation of matter; it is the age of World-affirmation. It is opposed to the ascetic spirit. In this age, therefore, it is easy to criticize asceticism; it is easy to argue that asceticism arises in an ancient race when it gets tired out by its burden, when vital energy begins to fail, and when it is exhausted by its many-sided contribution to the sum of human knowledge and effort. But none of these explanations of the rise of asceticism can be fully justified. The real justification of asceticism serfs upon a truth, and that truth corresponds to a state of Conscious realization which stands at a very summit of our possibility. That state of conscious realization is that of the Brahman, of inactive silence, of silence beyond silence, of the Transcendental, which when entered into suddenly results in a state of stupendous reality of the spirit and vanity or even unreality of all the world-existence. We should not minimize the truth of this experience in its capacity to liberate us from the limitations of our egoistic life.

The Refusal of The Ascetic

The Refusal of The Ascetic

We should also underline that the ascetic spirit is an indispensable element in human perfection. And even its separate affirmation can't be avoided so long the human race remains obstinately bound to the insistence animalism. It is only when the race returns from that animalism that exclusive asceticism can cease to be an indispensable element in human perfection.

It is true that the human mind can't remain forever satisfied by either exclusive materialistic or exclusive asceticism. The human must seek a total affirmation and reconciliation of both terms of existence, of both matter and spirit. We shall therefore seek longer and complete affirmation. In this seeking, we shall perceive that in the Indian ascetic ideal, which speaks of the Vedanta, the great Vedantic formula "One without a second", has not been read sufficiently in the light of that other formula equally impressive formula "All that is Brahman". We shall find that the upward movement of the man to the Divine has not been sufficiently related to the descending movement of the Divine. We shall find that the meaning of the Divine in matter has not been so well understood as its truth in the spirit.

And yet in our complete affirmation we must not minimize the part of the pure spiritual impulse. Just as we have seen how greatly materialism has served the ends of the Divine, so we must acknowledge the still greater service rendered by Asceticism. Just as we shall preserve the truths of Material Science and its real utilities, we shall exercise even greater scruple of right preservation when we deal with this legacy, considering its enormous value, both in itself and for the future.

The Refusal of The Ascetic

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