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THE SPIRIT IN MAN (2 of 2)

 

S. Radhakrishnan

 

V. 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 artists 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 Hgel 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.[1] When we hear enthusiastic descriptions of ultimate reality, it is well to remember Lao Tses 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 dtre. 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 intelligible.

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, Alexanders 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 transcendental reference.

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.[2]

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.[3]

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 fulfilment.

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. Lotzes 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.[4] 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. Gods 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 Bront). 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 sport (līlānyāyena), like human breath (puruşnihśvāsavat).[5]

VI. CONCLUSION

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 mans 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 mans 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 ones being, body and mind. It is to make oneself of a certain quality, to fashion ones being to a certain temper to reshape the stubborn world, to so change ones 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.

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[1] Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion, First Series, p. 100.

[2] E. T. (1935), p. 320.

[3] For the views of the Upanişads, the Bhagavad Gītā and the great teachers, Śamkara, Rāmanuja and Madhva, see the writers Indian Philosophy, vols. i and ii, second edition.

[4] Cp. Gahanam gambhīram apraketam salilam. Rg. Veda, x. 129.

[5] Śamkara on Brahma Sūtra, i. 1. 3.

 

 

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