Sitanath Tattvabhushan.

The philosophy of Brahmaism, expounded with reference to its history : lectures delivered before the Theological Society, Calcutta, in 1906-1907 online

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Online LibrarySitanath TattvabhushanThe philosophy of Brahmaism, expounded with reference to its history : lectures delivered before the Theological Society, Calcutta, in 1906-1907 → online text (page 15 of 23)
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to you doubtful from any intellectual difficulties,
you will see that your doubt will react upon the
faith you may yet retain in the higher truths of
religion. Nay, even if, without discarding it, you have
only dismissed the thought of immortality as some-
thing unnecessary for you, because you can be, as
you see, virtuous without thinking yourself immortal,
you will not, indeed, become necessarily "a bad man;
you may yet be outwardly and, to a certain extent,
even inwardly pure, as pure as one who constantly
thinks of the future life ; but you will see that the
subtler truths of religion, e.g., the existence of a super-
sensuous world, the transcendent love of God for every


human soul, and the high spiritual destiny of man,
will gradually become more and more intangible to
you. Keeping up your faith in them will be a
matter of no little struggle #ith you, for you
will see that all these truths imply the immorta-
lity of the soul. If, therefore, belief in human
immortality be lost, the loss of faith in the higher
truths of religion, of such faith as can alone sustain
a warm and vigorous spiritual life, is only a
question of time. I speak partly from experience,
from my experience of those days in which the
tender faith of early years was killed by intellectual
doubts and the re-awakened and reconstructed faith
of mature years had not yet dawned ; and I think

o have been and there are still many souls who,
from losing their faith in the future life, have come
gradually to losing all faith in religion. I therefore
heartily disparage all indifference as regards the
cultivation of a living faith in immortality as of
something which is of no practical importance to
the spiritual life. It may not be of importance to

mere moralist, to him who is contented with an
outward purity of life and a certain amount of good
work. But it is of supreme importance to life in
God, to living in deep harmony with God's spirit,
and, like the other truths of higher religion, like all
beliefs in supersensuous realities, it should be kept
vivid and active by study, meditation and devotional



Now, the two great foundations of our belief
in the immortality of the soul are its immateriality
and its spiritual destiny implied in its moral rela-
tions to God. Corresponding to these two founda-
tions of faith are the two main sources of doubt as
regards the future life, the misgivings that, after
all that philosophers have said of the distinction
of matter and soul, the latter may be only some
subtle form of the former, and that man's moral
relations with God may, after all that has been said
of them, be nothing more than a mere ideali-
sation of his moral instincts, instincts that have no
higher end than securing for him a certain amount
of secular well-being. I frankly confess, ladies and
gentlemen, that I have often been subject to these
misgivings and can heartily sympathise with those
who are their victims. I have wrestled hard and
long with these spirits of evil and taken pains to
find out the proper weapons to fight them. As to
the persistent Materialism that assails men in these
days, whether they are conversant or not with the
scientific thought of the times, I have found the
most efficacious remedy in Idealism. I do not think
any form of Dualistic theory can give permanent
satisfaction to the mind in this respect. All that
Dualism, of whatever form, has to say in the matter
seems to have been said in substance centuries ago,
for example, by Socrates as quoted by Sir William
Hamilton in one of the first of his Lectures on
Metaphysics, and by Sankaracharya in his commentary


on aphorism 54, chapter III, pdda 3 of the
Brahma SUtr^s. The essence of this teaching is that
our perception of matter is itself an unmistakable
proof of our distinction from ibr In our perception
of matter, matter and mind are distinguished as
object and subject, a distinction which clearly shows
that mind cannot be the product of matter. So far
the argument seems to be quite valid and convincing ;
and many have found satisfaction in it and have
sought no other argument against materialism. To
however, as to many others, the argument seems
to lose all force the moment matter is raised from
one term of a relation to an unrelated, absolute
entity, the standpoint of both popular and philo-
sophical Dualism. And it is from this conception
of matter, as an entity independent of knowledge,
that Materialism draws all its force. If matter is
an absolute reality independent of mind, how can
we be sure that in a high and subtle state of evolu-
tion it cannot -jive rise to mind ? This doubt seems
to haunt both popular and scientific thought. There
has not been, indeed, up to this time, anything like
a scientific proof that even the lowest form of life,
not to speak of mind, ever comes out of dead matter,
tin endowed with m< r.-ly physical and

il qualities. The late Professor Tyndall, who,
in his tamo ; t address ot \v in matter,

t sort of prophetic vision, "the promise and
potency of every form of life," declared, after nine
months of close analysis and experiment, that no


proof of the generation of life from dead matter was
forthcoming. But he asserted at ths same time
that he did not think it impossible that such proof
would be forthcoming in future. And he says this,
though in his Fragments of Science he, as quoted by
Dr. James Martineau, had declared, " The passage
from the physics of the brain to the corresponding
facts of consciousness is unthinkable." But what
is unthinkable, that is unrepresentable in imagina-
tion, which is all that the Professor seems to mean
by the term, may yet come to be true. And thus
both popular and scientific thought, in its scepti-
cal moods, seems to wait for a time when it may
be proved by purely scientific methods that life may
come out of matter, and if life, why not mind,
which is supposed to be only a more complex form
of life ? The discoveries of our own great scientist,
Dr. J. C. Bose, who has satisfactorily proved the
capability of mineral substances like iron to respond
to electric stimuli and the susceptibility of this
elementary form of life to be suspended by the
action of poison and restored by the influence of
antidotes, seem to point somewhat clearly to a day,
not very distant, when this dream of Materialism
will be fully realised. Now, I must confess that I
sympathise a good deal with these anticipations,
though from a standpoint very different from that
which either the Materialist or the Dualist occupies,
and fear no harm to the cause of religion from
their actual realisation. The fact is that when you


have set up sin absolute reality with certain powers
which it is ^supposed to exerc n set no

limit to powers which it may possibly put forth in
future; you must, on the c^f.n.irv allow it an
infinite potentiality of pro>i phenomena. If

ter is what it is cone be in scientific

thought and in the Dualistir which claims to

represent popular thought in sul namely, the

source of what are called physical phenomena and
cause of our sensations, I do not see why it
should be held absolutely incapable of producing life
and miml. ascribe i>ioer to it, as science

and popular thought undoubtedly do, is to concede
the whole point at issue between Materialism and
noli- Jism. To ascribe power to it is virtually

with will and thought and thus to raise
it to the position of the first cause or Ultimate
iity of the universe. As I showed as early as
Roots of Faith, the roots of Mr. Herbert
s Agnosticism are to be found in the
harmless doctrine of matter as some-
thing independent of mind. The true answer to
Mat i and Agnosticism I then found and still

lind in Mi-ali-m, in the doctrine established in my
. hinajijnux't and briefly defended in the fourth of
,ent series of lectures, that matter, though
;ble from, is n< independent of

mind. It would be going far beyond the limits of

n me of the
argi \vith which I have defended Absolute


Idealism in either of rny presentations of the
subject referred to. I have only to s^y that once
you have a real insight into the relation of matter
to mind, once you s 1 ^, with the penetrating vision
of true philosophy, that matter without relation to
mind is no better than an abstraction, and that
mind, far from' being the product of matter, is not
even its constant correlate, but really transcends the
limits which form its very essence, the moment,
I say, you see these truths, all materialistic doubts
and misgivings fall off from you like the street dust
which you shake and rub off from your body as soon
as you reach your house above the dirt and dusty
drifts of the public road. The only satisfactory
and unanswerable argument against Materialism
of all sorts, popular, scientific and metaphysical,
is the truth, arrived at by a close analysis of
experience, that there is no such thing as matter
as conceived by these theories, that the very
conception of matter underlying these systems is
self -contradictory .

This then, ladies and gentlemen, is my answer
to the first of the two classes of objections to the
immortality of the soul mentioned at the beginning
of this lecture. But I shall not dismiss this part of
my subject before I have read to you a few extracts
from a very suggestive little book on Human Im-
mortality by Professor James, the great American
Psychologist, and one of the greatest of modern


authorities on the subject of the relation of mind to
matter. From these extracts you will see the exact
state of recent scientific opinion on this important

Referring to one of the difficulties of believing

in human immortality dealt with by nim, Professor

James says : " The first of these difficulties is

relative to the absolute dependence of our spiritual

life, as we know it here, upon the brain. One hears

not only physiologists, but numbers of laymen who

the popular science books and magazines,

ig all about us, How can we believe in life

hereafter when science has once for all attained to

ing, beyond possibility of escape, that our

inner life is a function of that famous material, the

so-called ' grey matter ' of our cerebral convolutions ?

v can the function possibly persist after its or

has undergone decay ? It is, indeed, true that

-ioiogical science has come to the conclusion

1 ; and we must confess that in so doing she has

1 out a little farther the common belief

of mankind. Every one knows that arrests of brain

development occasion imbecility, that blows on the

head abolish memory or consciousness, and that

brain-stimulants and poisons change the quality of

our idt-ii-. Th<> anatomists, physiologists, and

pathologists have only shown this generally admitted

of a dependence to be detailed and minute.

What the laboratories and hospitals have lately been


teaching us, is not only that thought in general is
one of the brain's functions, but that the various
special forms of thinking are functions of special
portions of the br^'n. When we are thinking of
things seen, it is our occipital convolutions that are
active ; when of things heard, it is a certain portion
of our temporal lobes ; when of things spoken, it is
one of our frontal convolutions. Professor Fleshsig,
of Leipzig (who, perhaps, more than any one
may claim to have made the subject his own),
considers that in other special con\olutions those
processes of association go on which permit the
more abstract processes of thought to take place. I
could easily show you these regions if I had here a
picture of the brain. Moreover, the diminished or
exaggerated associations of what this author calls
Korperfulilsphdre with the other regions, accounts,
according to him, for the complexion of our emo-
tional life, and eventually decides whether one shall
be a callous brute or criminal, an unbalanced
sentimentalist, or a character accessible to feeling
and yet well poised. Such special opinions may
have to be corrected ; yet so firmly established do
the main positions worked out by the anatomists,
physiologists, and pathologists of the brain appear,
that the youth of our medical schools are every-
where taught unhesitatingly to believe them. The
assurance that observation will go on to establish
them ever more and more minutely is the inspirer
of all contemporary research."


The Professor then goes on to show that the
discontinua&ce of our mental life does not follow
from this admitted fact of its dependence on the
brain. He says : " The supposed impossibility of
its continuing comes from too superficial a look at
the admitted fact of functional dependence. The
moment we inquire more closely into the notion of
functional dependence and ask ourselves, for ex-
ample, how many kinds of functional dependence
i.iy be, we immediately perceive that there is
one kind at least that does not exclude a life here-
after at all. The fatal conclusion of the physiologist
. s from his assuming off-hand another kind of
functional dependence, and treating it as the only
imaginable kind. When the physiologist who thinks
that his science cuts off all hope of immortality
pronounces the phrase, " Thought is a function of

i train." he thinks of the matter just as he thinks
when lie says, " Steam is a function of the tea-
kettle," " Light is a function of the electric circuit,"

wer is a function of the moving waterfa'l." In
cases the several material objects have
tion of inwardly creating or engendering
their fleets, and their function must be called pro-
ductive function. Ju^t so, he thinks, it must be
with tip "Irring consciousness in its

interior, much as it ( i s cholesterinand creatin

and carbonic ac. ation to our soul's life must

also be cul'ed ]roductiv function. Of course, if such
production be the function, then when the organ


perishes, since the production can no longer continue,
the soul must surely die. Such a conclusion as this
is indeed inevitable from that particular conception
of the facts. But inethe world of physical nature,
productive function of this sort is not the only kind
of function with which we are familiar. We have
also releasing or permissive function ; and we have
transmissive function. The trigger of a cross-bow
has a releasing function ; it removes the obstacle
that holds the string, and lets the bow fly back to
its natural shape. So when the hammer falls upon
a detonating compound. By knocking out the
inner molecular obstructions, it lets the constituent
gases resume their normal bulk, and so permits the
explosion to take place. In the case of a coloured
glass, a prism or a refracting lens, we have trans-
missive function. The energy of light, no matter
how produced, is by the glass sifted and limited in
colour, and by the lens or prism determined to a
certain path and shape. Similarly, the keys
of an organ have only a transmissive function.
They open successively the various pipes and let
the wind in the air-chest escape in various ways.
The voices of the various pipes are constituted by
the columns of air trembling as they emerge. But the
air is not engendered in the organ. The organ proper,
as distinguished from its air-chest, is only an appara-
tus for letting portions of it loose upon the world in
these peculiarly limited shapes. My thesis now is
this : that when we think of the law that thought


is a function* of the brain, we are not required to
think of productive function only ; w e are entitled
also to consider permissive or tr#,nsmissive function.
And this the ordinary psyctio-physiologist leaves
out of his account." Professor James then illustrates
this transmissive function of the human brain
conceiving the relation of the finite soul to the
Infinite much in the same way in which it has been
explained in this series of lectures, specially in my
fourth lecture, by comparing the Infinite Mind to
the solar rays, the human brain to a glass dome or
prism, and the thoughts of finite minds fro rays of
light transmitted through such a medium. From
a fear of tiring you by lengthy quotations, I refrain
from extracting his luminous exposition of the
subject, contenting myself only with one more
extract dealing with the exact scientific or rather
unscientific character of the doctrine of thought as
the function of the brain. Professor James thinks
that neither the production nor the transmission

: v has any strictly scientific value, but that the
ory of transmissii m , wit h which he iden-
tifies himself, has several advantages over the other.

M advantages arc mentioned in detail in the
which I have quoted ; and I recommend

6 who feel interested in the subject to read the
book. As to the scientific pretension of the produc-
tion theory, the Professor says : " If we are talking
of science positively understood, function can mean
nothing more than bare concomitant variation.


When the brain activities change in cue way, con-
sciousness varies in another ; when v the currents
pour through the occipital lobes, consciousness sees
things ; when through the lower frontal region,
consciousness says things to itself ; when they stop,
she goes to sleep, etc. In strict science, we can only
write down the bare fact of concomitance ; and all
talk about either production or transmission, as the
mode of taking place, is pure superadded hypothesis at
that, for we can frame no more notion of the details
on the one alternative than on the other. Ask for
any indication of the exact process either of trans-
mission or of production, and science confesses her
imagination to be bankrupt. She has, so far, not the
least glimmer of a conjecture or suggestion, not
even a bad verbal metaphor or pun to offer.
Ignoramus, ignorabimus, is what most physiologists,
in the words of one of their number, will say here.
The production of such a thing as consciousness in
the brain, they will reply with the late Berlin pro-
fessor of physiology, is the absolute world-enigma,
something so paradoxical and abnormal as to be a
stumbling block to Nature, and almost a self-con-
tradiction. Into the mode of production of steam
in a tea-kettle we have conjectural insight, for the
terms that change are physically homogeneous with
one another, and we can easily imagine the case to
consist of nothing but alternations of molecular
motion. But in the production of consciousness
by the brain, the terms are heterogeneous natures


altogether ; and as far as our understanding goes,
it is as great a miracle as if we said, Thought
is ' spontaneously generated ' (jr ' created out ef
nothing.' '

After these weighty words of Professor James
nothing seems necessary to be said as to the diffi-
culty about the doctrine of human immortality
which we have been dealing with. But I shall not
leave this part of our subject before I have meja-
tioned two facts which seem to bring out most clearly
the distinction of the soul from the body. The first
is the ever-changing nature 'of the latter and the
identity <>f the former in the midst of constant
changes. Our own actions, both physical and mental,
and the action of natural forces upon the body, are
changing it every moment. The daily waste under-
gone by the body is recouped by nutrition. That is
to say. the particles lost by the body in the course
of its constant change are replaced by fresh particles.
A continual re-building, then, is going on in

bodies. This re-building, scientific men say, is

con. very three years; that is, at the end of

years, not a single old particle remains in

body. So far, therefore, as our bodies are
concerned, each of us is really a different person

i what he was three years back. But as souls,

ire the same persons we w u childhood.

Our knowledge and other n. ssessions indeed

increase, and many of our id- as change; but the


central personality, the "I," the ego, fi'emains quite
identical. We know that we are the*same persons
we were years ago, inspite of the changes we have
gone through. Tni& brings out most clearly the
distinction of our souls from our bodies and shows
the absurdity of our mistaking the death of the body
for the extinction of the soul.

Another fact reveals this distinction even more
clearly and is a transparent evidence of the immorta-
lity and ever-progressive nature of the soul. We see
that when our body has reached a certain stage of
growth, it naturally begins to decay. This process
of decay may be made very slow and gradual by
proper care, by strictly preserving the laws of
health, and death may be postponed and delayed
in certain cases much beyond the ordinary span
of life. But neither decay nor death can by any
means be avoided. The body is evidently doomed
to these processes. They are as much natural
to it as its birth and growth. But very different
is the case with the soul. Its powers and proper-
ties, wisdom, love, reverence, holiness, not only
increase with years, but show no sign of decrease.
Old men bowed down with their bodily infirmities
are if they have spent their lives well, if they have
used the opportunities of spiritual progress afforded
them the wisest and the best of men and the
natural guides and instructors of those younger than
they. If the soul were identical with the body, and



its powers destined to decay and death like those of
the body, the case would be very different. The souls
of old men about to die would then be as useless
as their bodies. But what we^usually see is the very
reverse of this. The real strength and beauty of a
truly virtuous and pious man often come out most
brilliantly, like the glories of an Indialn sunset, when
his physical existence is about to close. It is indeed
true that the mental powers seem to fail in some
cases as the powers of the body are impaired. But
really, it will be found, that it is not the powers
themselves, but the ability to put them into action,
to express themselves in the form of visible and
tangible facts, that fails. It is not wisdom, but the
power to manifest it in speeches or writings, that
fails in a man weakened by old age. It is not love
or holiness, but the power to put it forth in touching
expressions or far-reaching, beneficent acts, that
becomes more and more impossible with the failure
of bodily strength. And it cannot but be so. The
body, though not identical with the soul, is
undoubtedly its organ of self-expression, and when
the instrument is impaired, the expression cannot but
suffer both in quality and quantity. But this does
,n tin- ]ra-;t invalidate the nt from the

ever-progressive nature <>t the soul. Simv wisdom
lov. , holmes and other spiritual excellences are
ever-growing and show no sign of natural decay
no mark Off a limit tln-y aiv destined to reach, this is
an indication that they are intended for unlimited


growth, and that the soul, when its opportunities
for growth and progress are closed herfe, must have
another sphere of existence opened to it under con-
ditions either similar *o or different from those that
obtain here.

Now, these indications of immortality from the

immaterial and ever-progressive nature of the soul
rise into clear proof when we contemplate the rela-
tion of man to God and the object of human life as
it is revealed in man's spiritual nature. Kesavchandra
used to say, we find it stated in Miss Frances
Power Cobbe's Autobiography, that our belief in
God and our belief in immortality are not two beliefs,
but really one. I take him to have meant by this that
when the human soul is seen in its relationship to God,
it cannot but be believed as immortal. Our faith in
immortality is clearest when we are in our best mo-
ments, when our spiritual condition is healthiest, that
is, when our insight into such deeper truths of religion
as the love of God to man is clear and vivid. On
the other hand, it is only when our grasp of such
truths has become loose that immortality appears
too good for us and assumes the form of a beautiful
dream that may or may not be realised. Francis
William Newman, in his Hebrew Theism, bases a

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Online LibrarySitanath TattvabhushanThe philosophy of Brahmaism, expounded with reference to its history : lectures delivered before the Theological Society, Calcutta, in 1906-1907 → online text (page 15 of 23)