SPIRIT IN MAN (2
RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE AND ITS IMPLICATIONS
Religion is, in essence, experience of or living
contact wit ultimate reality. It is not a subjective phenomenon, nor mere
cultivation of the inner life but the apprehension of something that stands over
against the individual. The real is known not as the conclusion of an argument
but with the certainty of thing experienced. We cannot prove the reality of God
in ft same way in which we prove the existence of a chair or a table. For God is
not an object like other objects in nature. God spirit which is distinct from
the knowing subject or the know object. All proofs for the existence of God fail
because they conceive of God as an objective reality. Spirit is life, not thing,
energy not immobility, something real in itself and by itself, and cannot be
compared to any substance subjective or objective. The divine is manifested in
spiritual life or experience. It is given to us in life and not established by ratiocination.
Though religious experience is analogous in some
respects t the other manifestations of spiritual activity, such as scientific
genius, artistic creation or moral heroism, it cannot be identified with any of
them. It is unique and autonomous. The spirit is at
home with itself in religion and its life satisfies every side of our being.
The peace which we obtain through it is not mere emotional satisfaction. In it
the mind becomes irradiated with the divine light and obstinate questions of
reason find an answer. The will loses its irresoluteness as it becomes one with
the divine will. Spiritual geniuses possess the highest that man can possess
constant contact with the creative principle of which life is the manifestation,
coincidence with the divine will, serene cab inward peace which no passion can
disturb, no persecution ca dismay.
Any philosophic account of the universe must
consider a known data, our hopes and fears, our efforts and endeavour While
philosophy cannot take anything for granted, it cannot ignore the testimony of
religious experience to the nature c ultimate
reality which it also seeks to apprehend. If art initiates us into truth, if the
object of poetry is “truth which is its own testimony” (Wordsworth), it may
well be that even religious experience makes a real contribution to the
understanding of the world, and possesses a profound metaphysical significance.
It is our duty as seekers of truth to listen with reverence to the judgments of
those seers who have cultivated the religious sense and are specially endowed
with a fine discrimination in matters of spirit.
Simply because there are persons to whom
religious experience unknown, we cannot say that it is either unreal or
impossible. Our limited experiences are not the standard for all. There are many
for whom beauty is a word and music only a noise, but that does not mean that
there is no reality in the artist’s experience. Again, religious experience is
exceptional only in the sense that all genius is exceptional. It does not mean
that the experience cannot be verified by those who take the necessary trouble.
Even though all of us may not give utterance to the ~ice of spirit, still it
finds an echo in the depths of our soul. To suggest that men who have religious
experience are mental invalids is inconsistent with the well-known fact that
some of the greatest mystics are men of remarkable intellectual power, shrewd
discrimination and practical ability.
The sceptics dismiss the experiences of saints
and mystics as due to unsoundness of mind or psychological tricks. They are
perhaps justified by the history of religious experience where has often been
confused with emotional thrills and edifying clings. This fact only reminds us
of the need for careful scrutiny id examination of what claims to be religious
experience. Simply because religion has often been mistaken for what it is not
and got mixed up with fantastic notions and wanton cruelties, e cannot disregard
the entire field of religious experience as useless. We ate not willing to
dismiss sense perception as illusory simply because we have dreams and
hallucinations. Our experiences are liable to misinterpretation and our
judgments are not fallible. We are nowadays reverent even to the experience of
ghosts: we need not be rude to the experience of God. If we adopt narrowly
rationalist view, not merely religion but all the higher activities of mind
become unmeaning and pathological. Such a view narrows the range of vision of
the human mind.
Though religious experience has developed into
varied doctrines id expressed itself in different intellectual notations, there
is have made their mark on history, who join hands across the centuries and bid
us enter into the kingdom of the spirit. They affirm that the self perceives
directly the ultimate reality which is there, existing in its own right,
untouched by the imperfections of the world. It is intimately present to and in
ourselves. Truth, beauty and goodness are not subjective fancies but objective
facts. They are not only ultimate values included in the purpose of the world
but supreme realities. Their objectivity and sovereignty are sometimes brought
out by calling them attributes of God. We have a consciousness that we belong to
that which is ultimately real. Again, we cannot eliminate the element of mystery
in religion and attempt to measure the transcendent and the eternal by finite
and temporal standards. Any effort to make religion absolutely rational would be
to misconceive its essential character. Baron von Hügel
has a pregnant observation on this question. To expect clearness with regard to
the knowledge of the Supreme, he says, “indicates a thoroughly unreasonable, a
self-contradictory habit of mind.”
When we hear enthusiastic descriptions of ultimate reality, it is well to
remember Lao Tse’s dictum that lie who knows the Tao may be recognised by the
fact that he is reluctant to speak of it. Plato in his Seventh Epistle declares
his intention of publishing nothing on his Idea
of the Good:
“There is no writing of mine on this subject nor ever shall be. It is not
capable of expression like other branches of study but as the result of long
intercourse and common life spent upon the thing, a light is suddenly kindled as
from a leaping spark, and when it has reached the soul, it thenceforward finds
nourishment for itself.” The mystics appeal to us to build the ideal society,
the universal republic where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Greek nor
barbarian, where all men qua men are
of equal worth. Religious geniuses are devotees of the ideal of universal
brotherhood, based on the conception of the sanctity of the human person.
While those who share the experience do not seek
for proofs for the existence of spirit, but feel immediately certain of what is
experienced, proofs have to be offered for those who do not share the
experience. The rationality of the faith requires to be demonstrated. Though the
famous arguments for the existence of God may not be logically conclusive, they
show the inadequacy of naturalistic explanations. Nature is not its own raison
d’être. No part of it contains its own explanation. There is in the
procession of events we call nature, the emergence of higher qualities whereby,
as Browning put it, “out of three sounds we frame not a fourth sound but a
star.” Life emerged out of the non-living when the cooling earth was able to
support life. Physico-chemical explanations arc admittedly inadequate for Life,
and for the rise of mind and personality. The characteristics of the higher
level cannot be deduced from those of the lower. While science can describe the
precise circumstances under which higher qualities emerge, it cannot say why
they do so. Naturalistic evolution which attempts to account for the development
of new species by the theory of accidental variations preserved by selection and
fixed by heredity assumes a series of miracles. We must grant an intention of
nature to account for the coordination of complementary variations in a manner
beneficial to the organism and its transmissibility to its descendants. Bergson
in his Creative Evolution suggests
that the evolution of the species is not the result of the mechanical action of
external causes but is the expression of a vital impetus operating in
individuals, carrying them in a given direction towards ever-higher
complexities. The theory of vital impetus is an admission of the mystery of life
and its movement. The more we examine organic evolution, the more do we find
that there is very little of the random. Life grows to some end and the end is
the growth of spirit. A universe that has produced man cannot be indifferent to
his highest good.
Any process is intelligible in view of the end
it aims at achieving. The character of the different stages and their qualities
are determined by the end. In the cosmic process, we find that life uses matter
for its instrument. Similarly mind uses the living organism. The highest order
of being called spirit which is mind illumined by the ideals of truth, goodness
and beauty is rooted in human intelligence and grows from it. The universe
attempts to realise these ideals and cannot be understood except in the light of
them. They are not only the goal of the universe in the temporal sense but are
the timeless principles in the light of which alone the universe becomes
Professor Alexander is prepared to concede that
“deity” which is the next higher quality to emerge is the explanation of the
world process, though for him it is yet non-existent, though the world is
striving for its existence. It is yet an ideal and an existent only in so far as
the tendency is operative in the world. It is always to come but never comes. It
is the name of the next higher quality, which is to emerge, but which has not
yet emerged. In a sense, Alexander’s “deity” is not the creator but the
created. It cannot serve as the explanation of the world, if it does not exist
and operate in some sense. It does not yet exist in the temporal sense. It must
therefore exist in a timeless way. This world has meaning and value only in so
far as it realises in time and existence that which transcends time and
existence. No explanation of the cosmic process is possible without a
The cosmic process is sometimes traced to an
experimenting life force with which Bergson has made us familiar. The advocates
of life force are impressed by the inadequacy of purely naturalistic
explanations. They hold that life will continue to produce higher types of
existence. They have sufficient faith in the trustworthiness of life force and
its responsiveness to our deepest aspirations. Bergson suggests that it
discovers original solutions to the problems set by external conditions and
overcomes obstacles in an intelligent way. If we are so certain that the life
force will behave in a reasonable and purposive way, it is not fair to think of
it as an unconscious agency. If it is the operative principle of the cosmic
process and contains, as Bergson suggests, the essential characteristics
developed in the different lines of evolution in a state of reciprocal
implication, “instinct and intelligence being mere views, taken from two
different points, of that simple reality,” then it is unmeaning to call it
vital impetus or life force. In his latest work on The
Two Sources of Morality and Religion, Bergson argues that the creative
energy, the principle of life in general which inward intuition reveals, is to
be defined as love and is God Himself.
God is the timeless spirit attempting to realise
timeless values on the plane of time. The ideal of the cosmic process which at
the same time is its goal and explanation is real in one sense though wanting to
be realised in another. The ideal is the greatest fact in one-way and a remote
possibility in another. The values which the cosmic process is attempting to
achieve are only a few of the possibilities contained in the Absolute. God is
the definitisation of the Absolute in reference to the values of the world.
There are aspects in religious experience, such
as the sense of rest and fulfilment, of eternity and completeness, which require
the conception of a being whose nature is not exhausted by the cosmic process,
which possesses an all-fullness of reality which our world only faintly shadows.
This side of religious experience demands the conception of the supreme as
self-existence, infinity, freedom, absolute light and absolute beatitude. On the
other hand there are features of our religious experience which require us to
look upon God as a self-determining principle manifested in a temporal
development, with wisdom, love and goodness as his attributes. From this point
of view God is a personal being with whom we can enter into personal
relationship. Practical religion presupposes a God who looks into our hearts,
knows our tribulations and helps us in our need. The reality of prayer and
sacrifice is affirmed by the religious life of mankind. It assumes the reality
of a concrete being who influences our life. To leave the Absolute in abstract
isolation dwelling in Epicurean felicity is to reduce it to an ornamental
figurehead who lends an atmosphere to an essentially agnostic view of the cosmic
process. The permanent reality beyond the transient world of struggle and
discord is also here and in everything. In religious experience itself there is
no conflict. The supreme satisfies both sets of needs. But for philosophy of
religion, the central problem is to reconcile the apparently conflicting views
of the supreme as eternally complete and of the supreme as the self-determining
principle manifesting in the temporal process.
In Greek thought, Plato and Aristotle conceived
the Divine being as self-sufficient in His own perfection and undisturbed by any
changes of the world. Plato sets up a hierarchy of Ideas with the idea of Good
at its apex. For Aristotle, God is the unmoved mover, a thought thinking itself,
self-enclosed, operative only by the appeal of its own perfection. The God of
the Hebrews is of a different type. He is personal and active in history and
interested in the changes and chances of this developing world. He is a being
who holds communication with, us. Christianity represents a blend of the Hebrew
and the Greek traditions, though it has not yet succeeded in reconciling them.
The Hindu is aware of this fundamental problem
and as early as the period of the Upanishads we find attempts to reconcile the
doctrine of the changeless perfection of the Absolute with the conviction that
God is also responsible for this changing world.
The way in which the relation between the
Absolute and God is here indicated is not the same as that either of Śankara
or of Bradley, though it has apparent similarities to their doctrines. ‘While
the Absolute is the transcendent divine, God is the cosmic divine. While the
Absolute is the total reality, God is the Absolute from the cosmic end, the
consciousness that informs and sustains the world. God is, so to say, the genius
of this world, its ground, which as a thought or a possibility of the Absolute
lies beyond the world in the universal consciousness of the Absolute. The
possibilities or the ideal forms are the mind of the Absolute or the thoughts of
the Absolute. One of the infinite possibilities is being translated into the
world of space and time. Even as the world is a definite manifestation of one
specific possibility of the Absolute, God with whom the worshipper stands in
personal relation is the very Absolute in the world context and is not a mere
appearance of the Absolute.
When the Old Testament says, “Before even the
earth and the world were made, Thou art God from everlasting, and world without
end,” it is referring to the Absolute and not to God who is organic with the
world process. The Absolute is joy: God is love. Joy is a self-existent reality,
an absolute which does not depend on objects but only on itself. The divine
power of love spends itself on the objects
of its love without expecting any return from its self-expenditure. In the
course of the cosmic process, God accepts an element of the given, certain
necessities which His will does not approve, though He is struggling to
transform them through His creative effort. God appears to be finite in the
process though His infinity reveals itself when the world plan reaches its
In a famous passage of the Microcosmos,
Lotze repudiates the objection to the personality of God, which affirms that
the distinction between self and not-self is essential for the existence of
personality and as the divine self is infinite and therefore has no other, it
cannot be personal. Lotze’s answer to this difficulty is that while the
contrast between self and not-self is an invariable accompaniment of personality
as known to us, it is not an essential quality of it. The contrast is
characteristic of human personality but not of the Divine. But if the being of
God is a positive activity, this activity has meaning only when it is opposed or
limited by conditions which are not created by itself. Whether or not the
contrast of self and not-self is essential to personality, human or divine, life
of a personal being is not possible except in relation to an environment. If God
has no environment on which He acts, He cannot be personal. If God is personal,
He cannot be the Absolute which has nothing which is not included in it in every
possible sense of the world.
God can only be a creative personality acting on
an environment, which, though dependent on God, is not God. Though the acting of
God is not forced on Him from without, still it is limited by the activities of
human individuals. The personality of God is possible only with reference to a
world with its imperfections and capacity for progress. In other words, the
being of a personal God is dependent on the existence of a created order. God
depends on creation even as creation depends on God. In the sphere of thought,
being and non-being are opposites. The being of which we have experience is not
absolute being. Whatever falls short in any degree of absolute reality has in it
an admixture of non-being. In the world of experience, we have a conflict
between being and non-being. In and through their mutual hostility, the world
exists. If there were no non-being, there would be no being. Each presupposes
the other. The two are not related to each other as the carpenter to the wood or
as the potter to the clay.
The world exists in and through an act of
self-assertion. The self which asserts itself and which says “I am” is the
divine self. Over against this self, this will to be, is the infinitude of non-being,
the passive resistance which has to be met and overcome. The spirit of God moves
over the waters, the formless matter, the totality of possible existence.
Vital impetus and raw matter are, for Bergson, the complementary aspects of
creation. We cannot eliminate the dualism between subject and object, between
God and the given in the process of the universe.
At the beginning, God is merely the knower with
ideas and plans, which are realised at the end when the world becomes the
express image of God. The difference between the beginning and the end is
analogous to the difference between the “I” and the “me.” The “me”
becomes an adequate representation of the “I” at the end. All things move
towards the creator. When the creator and the created coincide, God lapses into
the Absolute. Being in a sense which both attracts and eludes our thought is the
ideal goal of becoming. In attaining this goal, becoming fulfils its destiny and
ceases to be.
Creation marks the beginning of this world with
tune, though not in time. The Newtonian conception of time as a prior framework
within which events happen, which is said to flow on at an even pace without
cessation and without end, is now given up. Time has no existence apart from
events. It is a conceptual construction from the experience of successive
events. The universe though unbounded is said to be finite. It has a beginning
and an end. If we give up this view we will be committed to the belief in the
eternity of this world. A dualism of God and the world where one of them will
have a precarious, illusory existence will result. The ideal of the world is not
an ever-elusive perfectibility, working ineffectively above the world of the
actual but what is most real and decisively operative in it and will one undated
day be achieved.
Evolution and history belong to the world and
are real and not mere appearances or illusions. God is not absolutely timeless,
though He is not in time in the sense that His whole being is subject to
succession and change. Though God does not consist of a succession of states,
succession is real for him. The future has meaning for God who executes designs
in the sphere of the created order. In a sense God Himself is subject to change.
There is a stage in which He attempts to realise an ideal and another in which
the ideal is realised. The contrast between the ideal aimed at and the actual is
real for God.
Again, what appears in subhuman forms as
tendency or striving becomes in man conscious will which is guided by the idea
of value. Men are active agents, not passive participants in the return of all
things to God. They can work with God or turn away from Him. The religious soul
who has direct contact with the Divine in an experience where the distance
between the subject and the object, the lover and the beloved is overcome,
identifies itself with the Divine will and participates in the creative work of
God. When once the possibility of working out an evolutionary manifestation of
values is accepted, God becomes the agent of creation achieving power, light and
love through the overcoming of inertia, darkness and death. The self-existent
Absolute becomes for this world with its resistance of finite things to the
unity of the whole, God, compassionate, consenting, helpful, the soul of truth
in all things and the saviour of mankind. He redeems the corrupt and reconciles
the hostile, evolves rhythm out of chaos. God’s work does not cease until He
has fashioned immortal substance out of evanescent nothingness.
The Absolute transcends not merely its finite but also its infinite expressions taken singly or in a finite number. In its range of expression or degree of expressiveness, the Absolute transcends all finite limits. The question of immanence and transcendence does not arise with reference to the Absolute. For immanence implies the existence of an Other in which the Absolute is immanent. But the Absolute represents the totality of being and there is nothing other than it. The Absolute is in this world in the sense that the world is only an actualisation of one possibility of the Absolute and yet there is much in the Absolute beyond this possibility which is in process of realisation.
God is the Absolute with reference to this
possibility of which lie is the source and creator. Yet at any moment God
transcends the cosmic process with its whole contents of space and time. He
transcends the order of nature and history until His being is fully manifested.
When that moment arises, the word becomes flesh, the whole world is saved and
time historical process terminates. Until then, God is partly in potentia,
partly in act. This view is not pantheistic for the cosmic process is not a
complete manifestation of the Absolute.
So far as the Absolute is concerned, the
creation of the won makes no difference to it. It cannot add anything to or take
away anything from the Absolute. All the sources of its being are found within
itself. The world of change does not disturb the perfection of the Absolute.
“Though suns and universes would cease to be, Every existence would exist in
thee” (Emily Brontë). We cannot say that the world follows from the nature of
the Absolute even as the conclusion of the syllogism follows from the premises,
as Spinoza would have us believe. The Absolute is the ground of the world only
in the sense that possibility of the Absolute is the logical prius of the world.
The world would not be but for this possibility in the Absolute.
As to why this possibility arose and not any
other, we have to answer that it is an expression of the freedom of the
Absolute. It is not even necessary for the Absolute to express any of its
possibilities. If this possibility is expressed, it is a free act the Absolute.
Hindu writers are inclined to look upon the ac of creation more as the work of
an artist than that of an artisan. It is līlā
or free play. The world is the work of an artist whose works are worlds.
His fertility is endless. Śamkara says that the world originates from the
supreme without effort (aprayatnenaiva), on the analogy of
like human breath (puruşânihśvāsavat).
True religion is born of spirit, not of flesh
and blood, not codes and customs, not of races and nations. The life of spirit
consists precisely in being free from these things and in penetration, into true
being. Systems of theology and codes of conduct am elaborated for the sake of
the large numbers who have no firsthand experience of religion and so require to
be directed in the way of religion. So long as there are men who have not
reached the spiritual level in which there is immediate contact with the divine
reality and are therefore dependent on the experience others, there is
justification for authoritative religion.
Dogmas and codes are not an absolute embodiment
of religion truth. They express particular stages in man’s spiritual
development. What is revealed is distorted and assimilated according to the
make-up and spiritual development of the persons receiving them. The intuitive
seer understands the variety of theological doctrines and codes. They are but
attempts to express the inexpressible, to translate into human words the music
of the divine. In the lace of the ineffable glory, nothing avails save the
renunciation of the artist and the austerity of silence. The creed we adopt, the
label we bear is largely accidental. We stay in the fold in which we are born
simply because we are more at home in it than in any other. The dogmas and rites
employed by religion for its expression and diffusion are only means for
bringing about that elevation of the soul which can dispense with them all. To
bestow a sacred character on racial traditions is to give a false turn to the
life of spirit. To submit the infinite spirit to finite forms leads eventually
to the enslavement of spirit.
Intellectualism admits the possibility of attaining a perfect system of divine knowledge. It refuses to see the super-being of God and denies the mystery of religion. It confuses the reflection of God in the mind of man with divine nature itself. It gives to the outward forms of the historical process an absolute justification. Intellectual religion pledges us to rigid definitions and obsolete dogmas. It encourages a hardness of belief almost mathematical in its rigidity. It does not believe in any half tones between white and black, any fine shades between truth and falsehood. In its anxiety to bend all individual wills to the purpose of the group and establish social cohesion, it enforces rites and obligations peculiar to the group and ignores the claims of humanity. It declares that what it affirms is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Different systems of theology acquire a sacred significance which is absolute and unchangeable and this leads to a quenching of the spirit.
The spirit in us is life and it resists death in
all its forms, blind instinct, unthinking custom, dull obedience, intellectual
inertia and spiritual dryness. A man’s religion must be his own and not simply
accepted on trust or imposed by authority. While trust and authority may put him
on the way, it is his own independent search that will take him to the goal.
Religion is a manner of life dependent on the
discipline of one’s being, body and mind. It is to make oneself of a certain
quality, to fashion one’s being to a certain temper to reshape the stubborn
world, to so change one’s life as to enter the vital movement of the universe.
Creative power of the spirit has not yet been seen in its widest scope. It has
not yet achieved its full stature. Civilisation is in its infancy, amid religion
yet in the making. Human progress is to be defined as the process by which
society is transformed increasingly in a spiritual way. The world is unfinished
and it is the task of religion to go forward with the task of refining it.
On this view, religion is not quiescent but
combative, exposing the hostility and hollowness of the irreligious principle.
It means a profound dissatisfaction with the existing state of humanity and an
active preparation for a new life, whether it be the kingdom of heaven on earth
or beyond. Religion is an eternal revolutionary because no order of life can
ever satisfy it. It demands the most radical transformation of man and society.
It will not be content until a new social order with basic economic justice,
racial brotherhood and equality, free intellectual and spiritual co-operation
and true friendship among the nations is established. So long as man has to earn
his bread by the sweat of his brow, he will spend his energies in the pursuit of
food, but if society is organised with courage and vision so as to secure ‘for
all its members food, clothing and shelter, the individuals will be freed for
the pursuit of the higher things of the mind and spirit. If a radical change in
what may be called the mechanics of living is brought about, the art of living
will receive a fresh impetus and the destiny of humanity will be achieved.
It is not enough to change outward forms and
institutions. We must transform the feelings and passions of men. We require not
a revolution in opinion but a revolution in behaviour. False intellectualism has
led us to prefer in artistic life the supremacy of form to content; in politics,
organisation to liberty; in morals, authority to personal experience; and in
religion, orthodox systems to spiritual life. A discipline of our whole being
including the emotions which are the springs of action is essential for
restoring to the world the inspiration which it has lost.
*** *** ***
Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion, First Series, p.
E. T. (1935), p. 320.
For the views of the Upanişads,
the Bhagavad Gītā
and the great teachers, Śamkara,
Rāmanuja and Madhva, see the writer’s Indian
Philosophy, vols. i and ii, second edition.
Cp. Gahanam gambhīram…
apraketam salilam. Rg. Veda, x. 129.
on Brahma Sūtra,
i. 1. 3.