Addiction to knowledge alone is not enough

Mere ideas and no experience, is like the deafening clashing of cymbals with no use at all

Published: 02nd October 2013 07:46 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd October 2013 07:46 AM   |  A+A-

The metaphysician thinks that he has got over the difficulty about the validity of premises by getting to the tattwas, the ideal truths of universal existence. Afterwards, he thinks, there can be no fear of confusion or error and by understanding and fixing them we shall be able to proceed from a sound basis to the rest of our task.

Alas, the tattwas are the very foundation, support and initial reason of this worldwide contradiction and logically impossible conciliation of opposites in which god has shadowed out some few rays of his luminous and infinite reality — impossible to bind with the narrow links of a logical chain precisely because it is infinite.

Both the logician and the philosopher are apt to forget that they are dealing with words and words divorced from experience can be the most terrible misleaders in the world. Precisely because they are capable of giving us so much light, they are also capable of lighting us into impenetrable darkness. Tato bhuya iva te tamo ya u vidyayam ratah; “Deeper is the darkness into which they enter who are addicted to knowledge alone.”

This sort of word worship and its resultant luminous darkness is very common in India and nowhere more than in the intellectualities of religion, so that when a man talks to me about the One and Maya and the Absolute, I am tempted to ask him, “My friend, how much have you experienced of these things in which you instruct me or how much are you telling me out of a vacuum or merely from intellectual appreciation?

If you have merely ideas and no experience, you are no authority for me and your logic is to me but the clashing of cymbals good to deafen an opponent into silence, but of no use for knowledge. If you say you have experienced, then I have to ask you, ‘Are you sure you have measured all possible experience?’ If you have not, then how can you be sure that my contradictory experience is not equally true?

If you say you have, then I know you to be deluded or a pretender, one who has experienced a fragment or nothing; for God in His entire being is unknowable, avijnatam vijanatam.”

The scientist thinks he has corrected the mistakes of the metaphysician because he refuses to deal with anything but a narrow and limited circle of facts and condemns everything else as hallucination, imposture and imagination. He forgets that all experiences are facts, that ideas are facts, that subjective knowledge is the one fact of which he can be decently sure and that he knows nothing even of the material world by his senses.

Many a materialist will tell you that only those facts can be accepted as a basis to knowledge which the senses supply — a position which no man can substantiate and which his science daily denies in practice.

These reasoners consent to trust their sovereign instrument is condemned as wholly fallacious and insane when it deals in precisely the same way with another field of perceptions and experiences. When my subjective experience tells him, “I am hungry”, he consents; “Of course, you must be since you say so.” But let it tell him, “I am full of bliss from an immaterial source”; or “By certain higher instruments repeatedly tested I know that I have wandered in regions illuminated by no material sun,” and he answers, “You are only fit for the goal or the lunatic asylum.” No one has seen the earth whirling round the sun, indeed we see daily the opposite, yet he holds the first opinion obstinately, but if you say “Although god is not seen of men, yet he exists,” he turns from you angrily and stalks into his laboratory.

Excerpts from the book Essays Divine and Human by Sri Aurobindo

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