Saturday, April 11, 2009

Points to Ponder 4

P - In our last conversation about faith and experience, you dropped a comment that complete objectivity is a myth. What did you mean ?
Me- In the context of faith versus experience, we were talking about, what exactly is experience, facts or response to facts ?
P - What is the difference ?
Me – The fact remaining the same response to it varies from person to person. So the same incident might generate different responses from different persons. Different persons might experience it differently.
P - Yes, that is possible.
Me - Why is it so ? If the incident and experience are built into each other, then an incident should generate the same experience in as many people as are exposed to it. But it does not do so. Which means, experience of an incident is not inherent in the incident, but in the experiencer. The experiencer, consciously or unconsciously, determines the nature of their experience.
P - For instance ?
Me - Two persons went to see a huge waterfall. One of them was an artist, the other an engineer. When they stood before the waterfall, the artist whispered, “Ah, what awesome beauty !”, but the engineer exclaimed, “O, what a colossal waste !” The object before them was the same, but the experiencers had different tools for appreciation. The engineer did not have the artist’s aesthetic tool, not did the artist have the engineer’s utility tool. Therefore no experience proves a fact, an experience reveals what a person is capable of experiencing.
P - What does all this point towards ?
Me - That no experience is free from the interference of the experiencer’s mind. Even the latest thinkers on science acknowledge it. Fred Alan wolf, for instance, a professor of quantum physics, says, “you can not have a universe without mind entering into it; the mind is actually shaping the very thing that is being perceived”. The mind is only a set of previously stored impressions, gained through the senses, from environment, education, culture, society, desires, needs, and a variety of influences which determine the perception tool of the individual. All these impressions are like windows with coloured glass panes through which we view and experience the world. Therefore, the experience of a certain incident is defined by whatever impression is predominant in our mind at the time. Thus we experience whatever we are prepared for at the moment.
P - This leads us to a very disturbing conclusion that our experiences really prove nothing except our inbuilt biases !
Me - Yes, they are part of our cognition tools.
P - Then how do we get at unbiased truth ?
Me - The answer is very simple. We have to use some unbiased tool to get at the unbiased truth.
P - Where is that unbiased tool ?
Me - Use simple reasoning. The impressions are the infrastructure of the mind. So either we use a tool which is not built by these impressions, or deny the impressions influencing our experiences. Then to a great extent we shall be free from a biased view if life.
P - That appears impossible to me.
Me - Yes, appears. It appears so because we use the biased mind to judge .There is a faculty in man which is not dominated by sense impressions. It is Buddhi. Buddhi is not exactly intellect. It is an intuitive faculty of cognition, which draws its light from atma, the seat of pure knowledge. It creates a safe framework for unbiased experience. We have to develop this faculty.
P - What is the other way ?
Me - When you look into a water-filled vessel, you can see your face reflected in it. The reflection shall be as much closer to the original as much still the water is. Similarly, experiencing the world around us shall be as much closer to reality as less agitated the tool of experience is. When no particular impression is allowed to influence our experience tool, free from an overbearing boss, we go closer to a vision of truth. In other words, a state of peace, or equanimity, the non-agitated and balanced mind, is the alternative tool. We have a beautiful description of this state of mind in Patanjali.
P - Who is Patanjali ?
Me - He is among the wisest masters of ancient India, who worked on this subject of freeing mind from all biases in order that it can perceive truth. This method is called Yoga.
P – And how according to him can we arrive at this state ?
Me - He says, “Yogah Chittavruttinirodhakah”; which means, if the mind can be made to drop all its agitations, and remain calm, one can experience the truth which unites man with God.
P - That I must admit is a wonderful idea, and it appears quite rational.
Me - It is. But here I must caution you. If ‘rationality’ remains for you a faculty of mind, and you use it as a tool to assess truth which is inaccessible to an agitated mind, you shall be terribly tricked. True rationality is the nature of Buddhi, which is reached in a state of complete peace.
P - Now, now, let me get it straight. For unbiased experience of truth, we have either to develop an unbiased tool called Buddhi, or, free the mind of all previously stored impressions. And yoga is a way to do that. Correct ?
Me - Yes, that is so.
P - But the exercise of freeing the mind of impressions appears to me an impossible task.
Me - So did it look to Arjuna too, another seeker in the battle of life. Krushna gave him two methods to get past the difficulty. First, accept intellectually the possibility of an impression-free state, and then practise it. This is possible when you strongly believe that you have a spark of the divine in you, which is far more powerful than the ‘thought-bundle’ mind, and you can access it if you want to.
P - What is this spark ? It is a fact or fiction ?
Me - This power has been used by many people who have shaped human history. This power raises you above the power of environment, of society, even above your own weaknesses. When someone asked Mother Teresa why she was caring the dying and the leper whom the society had given up, she replied she was doing this to the sick Jesus, and the leprous Jesus. The little miracles she experienced in her life were caused by this faith in the inherent divinity of man. When Mahatma Gandhi embarked upon an apparently unequal fight with the British for the country’s freedom, he had to rise above the environment of fear, hate, violence, and his own weaknesses, to carry the country with him. His faith in this spark empowered him. When a prince named Gautam decided to leave a prosperous kingdom, a beautiful young wife and a very handsome son, in search of truth, the power of environment could not subdue him. When the young son of a prosperous merchant in Assissi threw away his father’s clothes, and the pleasures of youth, to turn to streets for the love of Jesus, he was obviously driven by a power far greater than mind. All of them were. It is their faith which came to them through a window different from that which opens through the kaleidoscopic mind. And I need hardly point out the value of their experiences.
P - Now I understand what a transforming experience really means. What was the second method Krushna taught Arjuna ?
Me - It is a tougher method, meant for more consistent seekers. When you are busy developing the right tool for experiencing truth, you can not really switch off other tools, the mental impressions. They keep on dragging you to their windows. This could easily disorient your search, unless you have built up strong defences. The second method is about this strategy of effective defence. You have to keep on rejecting the distracting suggestions as not useful for you, detach yourself from their temptations, if you must have a taste of the experience of truth. Krushna calls these methods abhyasa, and vairgya.
P - I watched Chopra’s Mahabhatata serial which tells the story of Krushna and Arjuna. I took it as an imaginary story. I did not know we come across such profound truths in such ancient tales.
Me - Therefore one way to prepare our tools to experience truth is to read and contemplate the scriptures, to find out how other seekers from other times, or other cultures faced these questions. But even if you do all that we discussed, an unbiased experience might yet be elusive.
P - That is alarming ! You have demolished in one stroke all that you built up so painstakingly.
Me - Yes, unless you an eager willingness to do what you do. If you feel forced to follow the discipline, and keep complaining about difficulties you face, you will not learn anything, and arrive nowhere. Therefore Krushna introduces another word in His conversation with Arjuna, Shraddha; He told Arjuna Shraddhavan labhate jnanam. Swami puts it so clearly when He says, “You must like to do what you ought to do”. Shraddha is the magic sword which cuts through all knots of ignorance. This is where search for knowledge, search for experience mingles with love. Love keeps the search in track, makes it relentless, saves you from disappointments and boredom. But there is a difficulty in this too.
P - What is that ? You are never tired of seeing difficulties !
Me - Because I am determined to reach the end of the road. All we have discussed is a method, though quite effective. But can you really love a method ?
P - Yes, I see your point. We can love a person, but a method…. I don’t know.
Me - Here walks in God. We can love God as a person, like so many have done in all times and all cultures. God too is never tired of coming as a person to love and be loved. So you see how faith, experience, truth, knowledge, love, all mingle for one purpose, take man to his own divinity. Faith in your own essential divinity leads you to exploration of unbiased tools for unbiased experience of truth. This can be as long or as short as you want. Tenacity is all.
P - Thank you. Now I have a good ground to work on.

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