Philosophy of Knowledge

Source: By Swami Sandarshananda: The Statesman

Knowledge is inherent.” To know is to unveil or discover. The discovery of the Law of Gravitation by Newton is one of its major examples. When Newton saw an apple falling from a tree he asked himself why the fruit came down instead of going up. In due course of time, he revolutionised science. Man possesses a mine of knowledge, about which he is ignorant.

When he cleanses his mind-stuff (chitta) of all past impressions by an intense process of purging, he earns the competence (adhikara) to be able to draw his knowledge from his own infinite reserve. Nothing exists in this world that is as holy as knowledge. Like fire, it burns the blemishes and transforms man to a godly character. The indispensable prerequisite for knowledge of the Absolute ~ which is oneness of things ~ is an absolute purging of the mind-stuff (chitta-suddhi).

It is the essence of human life, by acquiring which one achieves the highest good. As one realises the same in one’s self, it is called Self-Knowledge. It is seeing the Self in all and all in the Self, with the knowledge that Self is the material as well as the cause of everything. By attaining this state of Knowledge, one possesses the vision of the sameness (samadarshana). But it isn’t an ordinary vision. It is an illumined vision of a divya chakshu (spiritual eye) developed by dint of one’s indefatigable practice of meditation.

One interpretation of the experience of Absolute is named as Non-Dualism (advaita-vada) which is a school of Vedanta philosophy. Sankaracharya is its greatest exponent. Philosophy is rooted in the “Love of Knowledge”, as it means etymologically. Man seeks to lead his life in the light of knowledge of himself and the world. This is an in-born desire that makes him rational.

Satischandra Chatterjee, erudite scholar and professor of Indian Philosophy writes: “Desire for knowledge, therefore, springs from the rational nature of man. Philosophy is an attempt to satisfy this very desire. It is not, therefore, a mere luxury, but a necessity.” Philosophy is primarily concerned with man, nature and God. It asks numerous questions regarding their essential identities. In other words, its purpose is to examine the truth behind the temporal as well as the transcendental reality, of which these three are varied expressions.

As this is a subject of intuitive knowledge, it is called Darshan in India. And all its propounders are spiritually accomplished souls of the highest order. They delineate their super-conscious perceptions in philosophical terms. Which is why each school of Indian Philosophy proclaims in its own way that there can be direct perception of truth (tattwa darshana) compatible with reason and argument.

On the other hand, science begins its journey which is embedded in philosophy. It then, ironically, dissociates itself from its “mother” and grows independently, to be disdainful towards philosophy.

Unfortunately, the obdurate followers of science frivolously discard philosophy believing that it is a figment of the imagination. They are influenced by the idea that anything that is physically unviable is unworthy of serious attention. They are impervious to the super sensuous reality which governs the universe. But then, the situation undergoes a conspicuous change. Science realises that it knows so little compared to the things still unknown. To be able to know comprehensively, science alone isn’t sufficiently equipped.

Accordingly, it seeks to harmonise with philosophy, opening a new avenue of knowledge. This evolves a philosophy of science with the idea that every study ought to have a certain philosophy. There are many scientists today who no longer reject philosophy as foibles, and, on the contrary, consider it seriously for the expansion of their wisdom. For instance, they now duly attach importance to and ponder over the truth that philosophy affords, specifically that there is an inscrutable power which consciously controls the phenomenal world unobtrusively.

As Bertrand Russel wrote, in the sphere of thought sober civilisation is roughly synonymous with science. But science, unadulterated, is not satisfying; men need also passion, art and religion. Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination. Among Greek philosophers, as among those of later times, there were those who were primarily scientific and those who were primarily religious; the latter owed much, directly or indirectly, to the religion of Bacchus. This applies especially to Plato and through him to those later developments which were ultimately embodied in Christian theology.”

By “Philosophy”, Russel meant that it “is something intermediate between theology and science.” He wrote that “there is a No Man’s Land, exposed to attack from both sides”, which is philosophy. Almost all the questions that pertinently disturb the speculative mind, which neither theology nor science can answer, are dealt with by philosophy. This places philosophy on a higher pedestal, recognising its capability to solve the complex quarries of both, by which they themselves are baffled.

Western philosophy originates from Orphism which is a sect of ascetics. In order to obtain mystic knowledge, followers of Orphism look to the inebriation of a union with God. This mystical factor enters Greek philosophy with Pythagoras, who is a reformer of Orphism as Orpheus is a reformer of the religion of Dionysus. From Pythagoras Orphic elements enter the philosophy of Plato and from Plato into religious philosophy.

“To the Orphic, life in this world is pain and weariness. We are bound to a wheel which turns through endless cycles of birth and death. Only by purification and renunciation and an ascetic life can we escape the wheel and attain the ecstasy of union with God.” This is an idea which resembles the thought of the ascetic philosophers of India in ancient times.

India’s approach to knowledge is holistic. Both secular and sacred issues receive equal importance. Knowledge, at its best, in Indian Philosophy is that which emancipates, annihilating ignorance forever. It liberates one from a hard slog of repeated births and deaths by which man’s destiny is fettered.

The fundamental problems and their solutions in Indian Philosophy are similar to those of Western Philosophy. They differ in their methods of enquiry and processes of development. Indian philosophy is synthetic. It deals with every problem from different perspectives ~ metaphysics, ethics, logic, psychology and epistemology together. Besides, it is also inclusive, for it “denotes the philosophical speculations of all Indian thinkers, ancient or modern, Hindus or non-Hindus, theists or atheists”.

A philosopher initially states the views of his opponents before putting forward his own view. If he refutes the viewpoint of another philosopher he does it in a disciplined manner. Finally, when he states his own view he asserts it convincingly with valid ground and arrives at a firm conclusion known as siddhanta or uttar-paksha. His grasp over knowledge and expertise to reveal the truth that he perceives by virtue of his sadhana is unique and unparalleled.

Every major work of Indian Philosophy is “encyclopaedic”, for it gives the views of all the other schools with precision and respect. In a work on Vedanta philosophy, one finds the Carvaka, Buddha, Jaina, Sankhya, Mimangsha, Naya and Vaiseshika views discussed in detail.

Interestingly, a scholar properly trained in Indian Philosophy can skillfully deal with the abstruse problems of Western Philosophy. This has been possible because of the willingness of Indian Philosophy to honour the views of others and discuss the same openly vis-à-vis its own. India must nurture this spirit of ancient philosophers in the face of the exodus of bizarre ideas currently generated from within as well as from abroad. It must assimilate all and then dish out something universally palatable, fulfilling the requirement of the modern times. Of course, it is not a matter of intellectual acumen or academic excellence, but that of optimal spiritual attainment. Sri Ramakrishna showed how this is practically feasible. India is an ardent worshipper of knowledge. Its schools of philosophy are based on the truism that Knowledge is for Bliss and Peace.


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