THE THIRD CANON OF THOUGHT
A KEY TO THE ENIGMAS OF THE WORLD
The intellectual method. Objective knowledge. The limits of objective knowledge. Possibility of expanding knowledge by the application of the psychological method. New forms of knowledge. The ideas of Plotinus. Different forms of consciousness. Sleep (potential slate of consciousness). Dreams (consciousness enclosed within itself, reflected from itself). Waking consciousness (dualistic sensation of the world). Ecstasy ('going out of oneself'). 'Turiya' (the absolute consciousness of all as of oneself). 'The drop absorbing the ocean.' 'Nirvana.'
Having established the principle of the possible unification of the forms of our knowledge, we must now see if this unification has been realized anywhere; how it may be realized; and whether it will be realized in an entirely new form or whether one of the existing forms will embrace all the others.
For this we shall have to return to the fundamental principles of our knowledge and compare the possible chances of development possessed bydifferent ways. In other words, we must attempt to find out which way and which method leads one quickest of all to new knowledge.
To a certain extent we have already established this concerning the emotional way: the growth of emotions, their purification and liberation from the self-elements must lead to new knowledge.
But how can the intellectual way come to new forms of knowledge?
First of all, what is the new knowledge?
New knowledge is direct perception by inner feeling. I feel my own pain directly; new knowledge may enable me to feel as my own the pain of another man. Thus new knowledge is in itself an expansion of direct experience. The question is, can the expansion of objective knowledge bebased on this new experience? We must examine the nature of objective knowledge.
Our objective knowledge consists of science and philosophy. Inner experience science has always regarded as data, as something which cannot be changed, but which is 'doubtful' and needs to be verified and corroborated by the objective method. Science studies the world as an objective phenomenon, and strives to study man's inner life with all its properties also as an objective phenomenon.
From another angle, simultaneously with this, there has continued the study of man's inner life, as it were, from within, but to this study no great significance was ever attached. The limits of inner knowledge, i.e. the frontiers of inner life, were regarded as strictly defined, established and unchangeable. The possibility of expansion, though based on the same inner experience, was admitted only in the case of objective knowledge.
We must see what constitutes the possibility of the expansion of objective knowledge. Is there no mistake here? Is the expansion of objective knowledge founded on a limited experience really possible, and are the possibilities of experience really limited?
In developing, science, i.e. objective knowledge, met with obstacles at every turn. Science studies phenomena; as soon as it tries to pass on to the study of causes, it is confronted by the wall of the unknown and, for it, the unknowable. The question is: is this unknowable absolutely unknowable or is it unknowable only for the methods of our science?
At present this is the situation: the number of unknown facts in every domain of scientific knowledge is increasing rapidly; and the unknown threatens to swallow up the known or what is accepted as known. The progress of science, especially in recent times, may be denned as a very rapid growth of the regions of ignorance. Of course in the past there was no less ignorance than there is now. But in the past it was not so forcibly felt - then science did not know what it is ignorant of. Now it knows this more and more, it realizes more and more clearly its own conditional nature. A little further, and in every separate branch of science that which it does not know will outgrow that which it does know. In every department science itself begins to repudiate its first principles. A little further, and science as a whole will ask itself:
Where am I?
Positivist thinking, which set itself the task of drawing general conclusions from the knowledge gained by each separate department of science and by all of them together, will find itself obliged to draw a conclusion from that which the sciences do not know. And then the whole world will be confronted with a colossus with feet of clay, or rather without any feet at all, with a huge nebulous body suspended in mid-air.
Philosophy has seen for a long time that this colossus has no feet, but the greater pan of cultured humanity is still under the hypnosis of positivism, which sees something in the place of those feet. Soon, however, this illusion will have to be abandoned. Mathematics, which lies at the foundation of positive knowledge, and to which exact knowledge always refers with pride as to its subject and vassal, actually denies positivism as a whole. Mathematics was included in the cycle of positivist sciences only through misunderstanding, and soon the chief weapon AGAINST POSITIVISM will be precisely -mathematics.
I call here positivism that system which asserts, in opposition to Kant, that the study of phenomena can bring us nearer to things in themselves, i.e. which affirms that through studying phenomena we can come to the understanding of causes. Moreover, and most important as an indication, positivism looks for causes of biological and psychological phenomena in physico-mechanical phenomena.
The usual positivist view denies the existence of the hidden side of life, i.e. it finds that this hidden side consists of electro-magnetic phenomena and is becoming gradually revealed to us, and that the progress of science consists in a gradual unveiling of the hidden.
'This is not known as yet,' says a positivist when he is shown something 'hidden', 'but it will be known. Science, proceeding on the same lines it has been following so far, will discover that too. After all, five hundred years ago people in Europe knew nothing about the existence of America; seventy years ago no one knew of the existence of bacteria; twenty-five years ago they knew nothing about radium. But America, bacteria and radium are all discovered now. In the same way, and by the same means, and only by these means, will be discovered everything that generally is to be discovered. Apparatus is being perfected, the methods, means and observations are becoming more delicate. Things which could not be even suspected a hundred years ago have now become generally known and generally understood facts. If anything can be known at all, it will become known precisely by this method.'
Thus speak adherents of the positivist view of the world, but their reasonings are based on the deepest illusion.
This assertion of positivism would be quite correct if science moved uniformly in all the directions of the unknown; if there were no sealed doors for it; if a multitude of questions, fundamental questions, did not remain just as obscure as in the times when no science existed at all. We see that whole vast regions are closed to science, that it has never penetrated them and, what is worse, has made no step in the direction of these regions.
There are a great many questions towards the understanding of which science has made no movement at all, many questions among which a modern scientist, armed with all his knowledge, is as helpless as a savage oras a four-year-old child.
Such are the questions of life and death, the problems of time and space, the mystery of consciousness, and so on, and so on.
We all know this, and all we can do is -try not to think about the existence of these questions, to forget about them. And this is what we usually do. Still, this does not do away with the questions. They continue to exist, and at any moment we may turn to them and test by means of them the steadiness and strength of our scientific method. And every time, at such an attempt, we see that our scientific method is of no value for these questions. By means of it we can establish the chemical composition of distant stars; photograph the human skeleton invisible to the eye, invent floating mines which can be controlled at a distance by electric waves and destroy at once hundreds and thousands of lives. But by this method we cannot say what a man sitting next to us is thinking about. No matter how much we weigh, photograph or sound the man, we shall never find out his thoughts, until he himself tells US. BUT THIS IS A DIFFERENT METHOD ALTOGETHER.
The sphere of action of the methods of exact science is strictly limited. This sphere is - the world of direct experience accessible to man. Exact science with its method has never penetrated and will never penetrate the world which lies beyond the boundaries of the ordinary organic experience.
Expansion of objective knowledge is possible only with an expansion of direct experience. But in spite of all the growth of objective sciences, science has not made a single step in this direction, and the boundary line of experience remains in exactly the same place.
If science had made a single step in this direction, if we could feel or sense at least something differently, then we should be able to admit that science is progressing and might take two, three, ten or a thousand steps forward. But since it has not taken one single step, we are justified in thinking that it will never take one. The world beyond the experience of the five senses is closed to objective investigation, and for this there are quite definite reasons.
By no means everything that exists can be detected by one of the five senses.
In the ordinary understanding, objective existence is a definite form of existence in a very narrow sense, which is very far from exhausting the whole of existence. The mistake of positivism con-sists in the fact that it has recognized as really existing only that which exists objectively (as it understands it) and has begun to deny even the existence of all the rest.
What then is objectivity?
We may define it in this way: owing to the properties of our perception or owing to the conditions under which our mind works, we segregate a small number of facts into a definite group. This group of facts represents the objective world and is accessible to scientific study. But this group does not by any means represent EVERYTHING
Extension in space and extension in time is the first condition of objective existence. But the forms of the extension of a thing in space and its existence in time are created by the subject perceiving the thing, and do not belong to the thing itself. Matter is first of all three-dimensional. Three-dimensionality is the form of our perception. Matter of four dimensions would mean a change in the form of our perception.
Materiality means the conditions of existence in time and space, i.e. conditions of existence under which 'two identical phenomena cannot take place at the same time and in the same place'. This is an exhaustive definition of materiality. It is clear that in the conditions known to us, two identical phenomena taking place at the same time and in the same place would constitute one phenomenon. But this is obligatory only for the conditions of existence we know, i.e. for such matter as we perceive. For the universe this is not at all obligatory. We constantly observe in practice conditions of materiality in those cases in which we have to create a sequence of phenomena in our life or are forced to make a selection, for our matter does not allow of more than a certain definite number of phenomena to be contained in a definite interval of time. The need for selection is perhaps the chief visible sign of materiality. Outside of matter the necessity of selection disappears, and if we can imagine a being, capable of feeling, living outside the conditions of materiality, such a being will be able to possess simultaneously things which, from our point of view, are incompatible, conflicting and mutually exclusive; he will be able to be in several places at once; to assume different aspects; to perform at the same time contradictory and mutually exclusive actions.
In speaking of matter it is necessary always to remember that matter is not a substance but merely a condition. For example, a man is blind. It is impossible to regard blindness as a substance. It is a condition of the existence of the given man.
Matter is a kind of blindness.
Objective knowledge can grow indefinitely with the perfection of apparatuses and methods of observation and investigation. The only thing it cannot step over is - the limits of the three-dimensional sphere, i.e. the conditions of space and time, because it is created in those conditions, and the conditions of existence of the three-dimensional world constitute its own conditions of existence. Objectively, knowledge will be always subject to these conditions, because otherwise it would cease to exist. No apparatus, no machine will ever overcome these conditions, for if they do overcome them, by this very fact they will, first of all, eliminate themselves. Only perpetuum mobile, i.e. a violation of the fundamental laws of the three-dimensional world as we know it, would represent a victory over the three-dimensional world in the three-dimensional world itself.
However, it is necessary to remember that objective knowledge does not study facts, but only representations of facts.
IN ORDER THAT OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE SHOULD TRANSCEND THE LIMITS OF THE THREE-
DIMENSIONAL SPHERE, IT IS NECESSARY THAT THE CONDITIONS OF REPRESENTATION SHOULD
So long as this does not take place, our objective knowledge is confined within the limits of an infinite three-dimensional sphere. It can advance ad infinitum along the radii of that sphere, but it will not pass over into the domain of which our threedimensional world represents a section. And we know from what has gone before that if our perception were still more limited, objective knowledge would be correspondingly limited. It is impossible to convey to a dog the idea that the earth is round; to make it remember the weight of the sun and the distances between the planets. Its objective knowledge is much more personal than ours. And the cause of this lies in its limited mind.
Thus we see that objective knowledge depends on the properties of the mind.
Of course, there is a tremendous difference between the objective knowledge of a savage and that of Herbert Spencer. But neither the one nor the other oversteps the limits of the three-dimensional sphere, i.e. the domain of the 'conditional', the unreal. In order to get out of the three-dimensional sphere, it is necessary to expand or change the forms of perception.
Is it possible to expand perception?
The study of complex forms of cognition tells us that it is possible.
The famous Alexandrian philosopher of the third century, Plotinus, affirmed that for perfect cognition the subject and the object should be united - that the rational agent and the thing which is being perceived should not be separated. 'For that which sees is itself and the thing which is seen.'*
Naturally one should understand here 'seeing' not in a literal sense. 'Seeing' changes with the change of the state of consciousness in which it occurs.
What forms of consciousness are there?
Indian philosophy distinguishes four states of consciousness: sleep, dreams, waking state and the state of absolute consciousness — 'Turiya'** (The Ancient Wisdom, Annie Besant).
G. R. S. Mead, in the preface to Taylor's translation of Plotinus, connects the terminology of Shankaracharya, master of the Advaita-Vedântin school of ancient India, with the terminology of Plotinus:
The first or spiritual state was ecstasy, from ecstasy it forgot itself into deep sleep; from profound sleep it awoke out of unconsciousness, but still within itself, into the internal world of dreams, from dreaming it passed finally into the thoroughly waking state, and the outer world of sense
Ecstasy is a term used by Plotinus. It is completely identical with the term Turiya of Indian psychology.
In the so-called waking state consciousness is surrounded by things constructed by the organs of sense and the perceiving apparatus in the phenomenal world; it distinguishes the 'subjective' from the 'objective' and differentiates its own images of representation from the 'reality'. It accepts the phenomenal objective world as reality and dreams as unreality. At the same time it seems to regard as unreal the whole subjective world. Its dim sensation of the real things lying beyond that which is constructed by the organs of sense, i.e. sensations of noumena, consciousness identifies with dreams, i.e. with the unreal, the imaginary, the abstract, the subjective, and regards only phenomena as real.
Gradually, convinced by reason of the unreality of phenomena, or sensing inwardly this unreality and the reality of that which lies beyond them, we free ourselves from the mirage of phenomena and begin to understand that the whole phenomenal world is actually also
* 'On Gnostic Hypostases', The Select Works of Plotinus, T Taylor, ed G R S Mead, London, G Bell & Sons, 1929
** According to the interpretation of the Southern Indian school of occultism the four states of consciousness are understood in a somewhat different order The one furthest from truth, the most illusory, is the waking state (taken in its ordinary sense), the second, sleep, is already nearer to truth, the third, deep sleep without dreams is contact with the truth, and the fourth, Samadhi, or ecstasy, is merging with the truth subjective and that true reality lies much deeper.
Then a complete revolution of all ideas of reality takes place in consciousness. What was considered real before,
becomes unreal, and what was regarded as unreal becomes real.* Transition into the absolute state of consciousness is 'UNION WITH DIVINITY', 'SEEING GOD', 'SENSING THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN', 'TRANS-LATION INTO NIRVANA'. All these expressions of mystical religions express the
psychological fact of an expansion of consciousness, an expansion when consciousness
absorbs all into itself.
C. W. Leadbeater, in an essay 'Some Notes on Higher Planes. Nirvana' (The Theosophist, July 1910), writes:
Sir Edwin Arnold wrote of that beatific condition that 'The dew-drop slips into the shining sea'. Those who have passed through that most marvellous of experiences know that, paradoxical as it may seem, the sensation is exactly the reverse, and that a far closer description would be that the ocean had somehow been poured into the drop! That consciousness, wide as the sea, with 'its centre everywhere and its circumference nowhere' is a great and glorious fact; but when a man attains it, it seems to him that his consciousness has widened to lake in all.
This absorption of the ocean by a drop occurs because consciousness never disappears, i.e. it never vanishes, never becomes extinguished. When consciousness seems to disappear, in reality it only changes its form, ceases to be analogous to ours and so we lose the means of ascertaining its existence.
We have no exact data for thinking that it vanishes. To escape the field of our possible observation it is sufficient for it to change just a little.
In the objective world a merging of the drop with the ocean naturally leads to the annihilation of the drop, to its absorption by the ocean. We have never observed any other order of things in the objective world, and so we never picture it to ourselves. But in the real, i.e. the subjective world, another order must necessarily exist and operate. A drop of consciousness merging with the ocean of consciousness, perceives the ocean but does not, through this, cease to be. Therefore the ocean undoubtedly becomes absorbed by the drop.
In the 'Letters to Flaccus' of Plotinus we find a striking outline of conceptions of the subjective and the objective are bound to change. The usual designation will be incorrect for exact understanding. On the contrary, everything phenomenal will be subjective, and the truly objective will be that which, in ordinary conditions, is considered subjective or devoid of any existence.
psychology and a theory of knowledge, based precisely on the idea of expansion of perception.
External objects present us only with appearances. Concerning them, therefore, we may be said to possess opinion rather than knowledge. The distinctions in the actual world of appearance are of import only to ordinary and practical men. Our question lies with the ideal reality that exists behind appearance. How does the mind perceive these ideas? Are they without us, and is the reason, like sensation, occupied with objects external to itself? What certainty would we then have - what assurance that our perception was infallible? The object perceived would be a something different from the mind perceiving it. We should have then an image instead of reality. It would be monstrous to believe for a moment that the mind was unable to perceive ideal truth exactly as it is, and that we had not certainty and real knowledge concerning the world of intelligence. It follows, therefore, that this region of truth is not to be investigated as a thing external to us, and so only imperfectly known. It is within us. Here the objects we contemplate and that which contemplates are identical -both are thought. The subject cannot surely know an object different from itself. The world of ideas lies within our intelligence. Truth, therefore, is not; the agreement of our apprehension of an external object with the object itself. It is the agreement of the mind with itself. Consciousness, therefore, is the sole basis of certainty. The mind is its own witness. Reason sees in itself that which is above itself as its source; and again, that which is below itself as still itself once more.
Knowledge has three degrees -opinion, science, illumination. The means or instrument of the first is sense; of the second dialectic; of the third intuition. To the last I subordinate reason. It is absolute knowledge founded on the identity of the mind knowing with the object known. There is a raying out of all orders of existence, an external emanation from the ineffable One. There is again a returning impulse, drawing all upwards and inwards towards the centre from whence all came.
. . . The wise man recognizes the idea of the good within him. This he develops by withdrawals into the holy place of his own soul. He who does not understand how the soul contains the beautiful within itself, seeks to realize beauty by laborious production. His aim should rather be to concentrate and simplify, and so to expand his being; instead of going out into the manifold, to forsake it for the One, and so to float upwards towards the divine fount whose stream flows within him.
You ask, how can we know the Infinite? I answer, not by reason. It is the office of reason to distinguish and define. The Infinite, therefore, cannot be ranked among its objects. You can only apprehend the Infinite by a faculty superior to reason, by entering into a state in which you are your finite self no longer -in which the divine essence is communicated to you. This is ecstasy. It is the liberation of your mind from its finite consciousness. Like can only apprehend like; when you thus cease to be finite, you become one with the Infinite. In the reduction of your soul to its simplest self, its divine essence, you realize this union - this identity.
But this sublime condition is not of permanent duration. It is only now and then that we can enjoy this elevation above the limits of the body and the world. I myself have realized it but three times as yet, and Porphyry hitherto not once.
All that tends to purify and elevate the mind will assist you in this attainment, and facilitate the approach and the recurrence of these happy intervals. There are, then, different roads by which this end may be reached. The love of beauty which exalts the poet; that devotion to the One and that ascent of science which makes the ambition of the philosopher, and that love and those prayers by which some devout and ardent soul tends in its moral purity towards perfection. These are the great highways conducting to that height above the actual and the particular, where we stand in the immediate presence of the Infinite, who shines out as from the deeps of the soul.*
In another place in his writings Plotinus gives a still more exact definition of ecstatic knowledge, pointing to such properties of it which show us quite clearly that an infinite expansion of subjective knowledge is implied.
In the vision of God [says Plotinus] what sees is not our reason, but something prior and superior to our reason. ... He who thus sees does not properly see, does not distinguish or imagine two things (the seer and the seen). He changes, he ceases to be himself, preserves nothing of himself. Absorbed in God, he makes but one with him, like a centre of a circle coinciding with another centre!**
*'Plotinus to Flaccus', as quoted by Dr R. M. Bucke in Cosmic Consciousness, Philadelphia, Innes & Sons, 1905.
** W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, New York, Longmans Green, 1917.