Intuition – Experience of truths beyond senses

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A. (Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D. Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

Mrs Sudha Rani Maheshwari, M.Sc (Zoology), B.Ed. Former Principal. A.K.P.I.College, Roorkee, India

Normally we arrive at the conception and at the knowledge of divine existence by exceeding the evidence of the senses and piercing beyond the walls, of the physical mind.   So long as we confine ourselves to sense-evidence and the physical consciousness, we can conceive nothing and know nothing except the material world and its phenomena.  But certain faculties in us enable our mentality to arrive at conceptions which we may indeed deduce by ratiocination or by imaginative variation from the facts of the physical world as we see them, but which are not warranted by any purely physical data or any physical experience.

The first of these  is the pure reason. The sovereign action of the sense mind can be employed to develop other senses besides the five which we ordinarily use.  For instance, it is possible to develop the power of appreciating accurately without physical means the weight of an object which we hold in our hands.  Here the sense of contact and pressure is merely used as a starting-point, just as the data of sense-experience are used by the pure reason, but it is not really the sense of touch which give the measure of the weight to the mind; that finds the right value through its own independent perception and uses the touch only in order to enter into relation with the object.  And as with the pure reason, so with the sense mind, the sense-experience can be used as a mere first point from which it proceeds to a knowledge that has nothing to do with the sense-organs and often contradicts their evidence.  Nor is the extension of faculty confined only to outsides and superficies.  It is possible, once we have entered by any of the senses into relation with an external object, so to apply the Manas as to become aware of the contents of the object, for example, to receive or to perceive the thoughts or feelings of others without aid from their utterance, gesture, action or facial expressions and even in contradiction of these always partial and often misleading data.

Finally, by an utilization of the inner senses, that is to say, of the sense-powers, in themselves, in their purely mental or subtle activity as distinguished from the physical which is only a selection for the purpose of outward life from their total and general action, we are able to take cognition of sense-experiences, of appearances and images of things other than those which belong to the organization of our material environment.

All these extensions of faculty, though received with hesitation and incredulity by the physical mind because they are abnormal to the habitual scheme of our ordinary life and experience, difficult to set in action, still more difficult to systematize so as to be able to make of them an orderly and serviceable set of instruments, must yet be admitted, since they the invariable result of any attempt to enlarge the field of our superficially active consciousness whether by some kind of untaught effort and casual ill-ordered effect or by a scientific and well regulated practice.

Mind is accustomed to depending on the senses, which is why it is in sleep that the subliminal mind is liberated. Sense-powers and inner senses can be developed in themselves. Experience of truths beyond senses requires something else, however’. The concept of Brahman, pure existence, is beyond ordinary experience. Divine existence is reached by going beyond senses. Pure reason is not fully satisfying, because we want to experience things  as well as conceive of them.  Psychological experience can also be pure, when we seek to be aware of our self as subject.

Awareness of truths is beyond phenomena. Vedanta starts from reason but uses intuition as the final authority, in order to know truths that are beyond ordinary experience. Intuition is the common property between subconscious and superconscious.The foundation of intuition is knowledge by identity. Indian philosophers started from reason, but used intuition as the final test and authority. The pure existence can be known by identity, intuition, but not by thought.

None of them, however, leads to the aim we have in view, the psychological experience of those truths that are “beyond perception by the sense but sizable by the perceptions of the reason”, buddhigrahyam  atindriyam.  They give us only a larger field of phenomena and more effective means from the observation of phenomena.  The truth of things always escapes beyond the sense.  Yet is it a sound rule inherent in the very constitution of universal existence that where there are truths attainable by the reason, there must be somewhere in the organism possessed of that reason a means of arriving at or verifying them by experience.  The one means we have left in our mentality is an extension of that form of knowledge by identity which gives us the awareness of our own existence.  It is really upon a self awareness more or less conscientious, more or less present to our conception that the knowledge of the contents of our self is based.  Or to put it in a more general formula, the knowledge of the contents is contained in the knowledge of the continent.  If then we can extend our faculty of mental self-awareness to awareness of the Self beyond and outside us, Atman or Brahman of the Upanishads, we may become possessors in experience of the truths which form the contents of the Atman or Brahman in the universe.  It is on this possibility that Indian Vedanta has based itself.  It has sought through knowledge of the Self the knowledge of the universe.

Sud-Brahman (Supreme God ), Existence pure, indefinable, infinite, absolute, is the last concept at which Vedantic analysis arrives in its view of the universe, the fundamental Reality which Vedantic experience discovers behind all the movement and formation which constitute the apparent reality.  It is obvious that when we posit this conception, we go entirely beyond what our ordinary consciousness, our normal experience contains or warrants.  The senses and sense-mind know nothing whatever about any pure or absolute existence.  All that our sense-experience tells us of is form and movement.  Forms exist, but with an existence that is not pure, rather always mixed, combined, aggregated, relative.  When we go within ourselves, we may get rid of precise form, but we cannot get rid of movement, of change.  Motion of Matter in Space, motion of change in Time seem to be the condition of existence.  We may say indeed, if we like, that this is existence and that the idea of existence in itself corresponds to no discoverable reality. At the most in the phenomenon of self awareness or behind it, we get sometimes a glimpse of something immovable and immutable, something that we vaguely perceive or imagine that we are beyond all life and death, beyond all change and formation and action.  Here is the one door in us that sometimes swings open upon the splendor of a truth beyond and before it shuts again, allows a ray to touch us, a luminous intimation which, if we have the strength and firmness, we may hold to in our faith and make a starting –point for another play of consciousness than that of the sense-mind, for the play of Intuition.

or if we examine carefully, we shall find that Intuition is our first teacher.  Intuition always stands veiled behind our mental operations.  Intuition brings to man those brilliant messages from the Unknown which are the beginning of his higher knowledge.  Reason only comes in afterwards to see what profit it can have of the shining harvest.  Intuition gives us that idea of something behind and beyond all that we know and seem to be which pursues man always in contradiction of his lower reason and all his normal experience and impels him to formulate that form less perception in the more positive ideas of God, Immortality, Heaven and the rest by which we strive to express it to the mind.  For Intuition is as strong as Nature herself from whose very soul it has sprung and cares nothing for the contradictions of reason or the denials of experience.  It knows what is because it is, because itself it is of that and has come from that, and will not yield it to the judgment of what merely becomes and appears.  What the Intuition tells us of, is not so much Existence as the Existent, for it proceeds from that one point of light in us which gives it its advantage, that sometimes opened door in our own self-awareness.  Ancient Vedanta seized this message of the Intuition and formulated it I the three great declarations of the Upanishads, “I am He”, “Thou art That, O Swetaketu”, “All this is the Brahman; this Self is the Brahman”.

But Intuition by the very nature of its action in man, working as it does from behind the veil, action principally in his more unenlightened, less articulate parts, served in front of the veil, in the narrow light which is our waking conscience, only by instruments that are unable fully to assimilate its messages, __Intuition is unable to give us the truth in the ordered and articulated from which our nature demands.  Before it could effect any such completeness of direct knowledge in us, it would have to organize itself in our surface being and take possession there of the leading part.  But in our surface being it is not the Intuition, it is the Reason which is organized and helps us to order our perceptions, thoughts and actions.  Therefore the age of intuitive knowledge, represented by the early Vedantic thinking of the Upanishads, had to give place to the age of rational knowledge inspired Scripture made room for metaphysical philosophy, even as afterwards metaphysical philosophy had to give place to experimental Science.  Intuitive thought which is a messenger from the super-conscient and therefore our highest faculty, was supplanted by the pure reason which is only a sort of deputy and belongs to the middle heights of our being; pure reason in its turn was supplanted for a time by the mixed action of the reason which lives on our plains and lower elevations and does not in its view exceed the horizon of the experience that the physical mind and senses or such aids as we can invent for them can bring to us.  And this process which seems to be a descent, is really a circle of progress.  For in each case the lower faculty is compelled to take up as much as it can assimilate of what the higher had already given and  to attempt to re-establish it by its own methods.  By the attempt it is itself enlarged in its scope and arrives eventually at a more supple and a more ample self accommodation to the higher faculties.  Without this succession and attempt at separate assimilation we should be obliged to remain under the exclusive domination of a part of our nature while the rest remained either depressed and unduly subjected or separate in its field and therefore poor in its development.  With this succession and separate attempt the balance is righted; a more complete harmony of our parts of knowledge is prepared.

We see this succession in the Upanishads and the subsequent Indian philosophies.  The sages of the Veda and Vedanta relied entirely upon intuition and spiritual experience.  It is by an error that scholars sometimes speak of great debates or discussions in the Upanishad.  Wherever there is the appearance of a controversy, it is not by discussion, by dialectics or the use of logical reasoning that it proceeds, but by a comparison of intuitions and experiences in which the less luminous gives place to the more luminous, the narrower, faultier or less essential to the more comprehensive, more perfect, more essential.  The question asked by one sage of another is “What dost thou know?, not “What dost thou think?” nor “To what conclusion has thy reasoning arrived?  Nowhere in the Upanishads do we find any trace of logical reasoning urged in support of the truths of Vedanta.  Intuition, the sages seem to have held,  must be corrected by a more perfect intuition; logical reasoning cannot be its judge.

And yet the human reason demands its own method of satisfaction.  Therefore when the age of rationalistic speculation began, Indian philosophers, respectful of the heritage of the past, adopted a double attitude towards the Truth they sought.  They recognized in the Sruti, the earlier results of Intuition or, as they preferred to call it, of inspired Revelation, an authority superior to Reason.  But at the same time they started from Reason and tested the results it gave them, holding only those conclusions to valid which were supported by the supreme authority.  In this way they avoided to a certain extent the besetting sin of metaphysics, the tendency to battle in the clouds because it deals with words as if they were imperative facts instead of symbols which have always to be carefully scrutinized and brought back constantly to the sense of that which they represent.  Their speculations tended at first to keep near at the centre to the highest and profoundest experience and proceeded with the united consent of the two great authorities, Reason and Intuition.  Nevertheless, the natural trend of Reason to assert its own supremacy triumphed in effect over the theory of its subordination.  Hence the rise of conflicting schools each of which founded itself in theory on the Veda and used its texts as a weapon against the others.  For the highest intuitive Knowledge sees things in the whole, in the large and details only as sides of the indivisible whole; its tendency is towards immediate synthesis and the unity of knowledge.  Reason, on the contrary, proceeds by analysis and division and assembles its facts to form a whole; but in the assemblage so formed there are opposites, anomalies, logical incompatibilities, and the natural tendency of Reason is to affirm some and to negate others which conflict with its chosen conclusions so that it may form a flawlessly logical system.  The unity of the first intuitional knowledge was thus broken up and the ingenuity of the logicians was always able to discover devices, methods of interpretation, and standards of varying value by which inconvenient texts of the Scripture could be practically annulled and an entire freedom acquired for their metaphysical speculation.

Intuition is always behind reason, but it cannot give an ordered and  articulated form until it is organized in our surface being. This is why the age of intuitive knowledge had to be followed by the age of reason.

Reference-Sri Aurobindo-The Life Divine



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