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 6 of 23)
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sense to intuition. We often meet with such
expressions as Moral Sense, Sense of Duty, Spiritual
Sense, Senses of the Soul, clearly indicating that as
by the bodily eye we see outward objects, so by
intuition we see spiritual realities. Another mark
of intuition is spontaneity. The mind apprehends
intuitive truths spontaneously, instinctively, without
any voluntary effort. They spring outright from
our nature ; they are not wrought out by reasoning.
They are facts of our constitution ; we cannot
create or destroy them if we will; they do not
depend upon the fiat of our volitions. Hence,
though we may ignore them in theory, oftentimes
they are found to govern us practically. Metaphy-
sical theorists held for a long time the ideality of
external objects ; but there is hardly a sane man who
practically adheres to this shocking theory. Some


people seem to deny God, and bring forward various
arguments to show the plausibility of such denial ;
but often do circumstances occur in which the
intuitions force themselves up from the depths of
their donstitution, and vindicate their rights with a
practical potency which theories in vain try to
gainsay. The personality of our nature many have
denied ; and yet every man practically believes that
there are actions which he may do or not do as he
chooses. Thus you see that intuition is spontaneous,
natural, involuntary, permanent and practical.
Hence it has been denominated Spontaneous Reason,
Natural Sight, Instinctive Belief, Practical Reason,
etc. Another mark of intuition is universality. If
intuitive truths are facts of our nature, and are
independent of our will, they are universal. They
are in the possession of the wise and the illiterate
of the rich and the poor. Hence they have been
called Catholic Convictions, Common Sense. Another
mark of intuition is originality. Intuitive truths
are not inferences from certain premises. They
are primitive truths ; they do not originate in
reflection. They furnish materials for reasoning
and scientific reflection themselves underived and
primitive. They are the starting points of our
higher knowledge, as sensations are of all inferior
\vledge. tlence they have been styled first truths,
primitive cognitions. The last characteristic I have
to mention is that intuitions are self-evident. They
are axiomatic truths which do not admit of demon-
stration. Every effect must have a cause is 'a


proposition the truth of which no one disputes, yet
no one can demonstrate. Intuitions require no
light of evidence to exhibit them : they shine in their
own light. They are accordingly not merely cogni-
tions, but convictions and beliefs. We not only
know, but firmly believe, that every effect has a cause,
that good should be done and evil avoided, etc. Hence
intuitions have been termed A priori Truths, Axioms,
Faith. These are the principal characteristics of
intuitive cognitions."

Now, it will be seen that the five characteristics
of intuition enumerated in this extract, namely,
immediacy, spontaneity, universality, originality and
self-evidence, may be reduced to three, namely,
universality, spontaneity and self-evidence ; and we
find that in Babu Rajnarayan Basu's work entitled
Dharmatattvadipikd these three are the only char-
acteristics recognised w of intuitive belief. Practi-
cally, I have found, ever since I joined Hhe
Brahma Samaj, which I did in my early youth, Brah-
mas depending upon the first two, specially the first,
universality . The oft-repeated answer to all question-
ings about the fundamental truths of religion was,
in those good old days, the appeal to the universality
of belief in them. It was specially so in regard to
belief in God. " I believe in God," wiua the constant
confession of a Brahma in those days, and is so even
now, more or less. " because the belief is natural; it is
intuitive. And its naturalness, its intuitiveness, is
proved by the fact that it is a universal belief,


a belief universally held by mankind ; or, if there are
exceptions, if there are men who do not hold this
belief, the exceptions only prove the rule. The
all but universal prevalence of the belief shows
that it has its roots in human nature, and that there
mustjbe something abnormal, something unnatural,
in men wl^o do not share this belief." Now, I must
confess that this appeal to the universality of our
belief in God as a proof of its validity does not carry
any weight with me now, whatever it may have done
in my youth. First, it seems somewhat audacious
to consign to virtual blindness some of the best and
most cultured members of our race, namely those
who have not seen their way to believing in a
Divine Being. If belief in God were such a plain
and easy thing as it is represented to be, it would
b. wonderful that so many earnest and thought-
ful men could not cherish it even though
they tried to feel their way te it. Secondly, it seems
somewhat inconsistent to place the reliability of our
belief in God on its universality. We certainly do
not believe in God because the belief is universal,
because we know that all men, or almost all, believe
in God. We do not wait, we do not suspend our
belief, till we know that the belief prevails universally
or all but uni \vrsally. The universality of the belief
is an opinion which only travellers and anthropologists
are competent to pronounce true or false ; but we
become believers in God and even theologians, long
before we become travellers or anthropologists.

;dly, though, as we shall see by and by, belief


in God lies unconsciously at the basis not only of
every piece of religious knowledge, but of all
knowledge whatever, it is by no means true, as
travellers and anthropologists themselves admit,
that a conscious belief in the true God, the
God of all true Theism, Hindu, Christian or
Muhammadan, is universal. There are whole
nations which are devoid of the knowledge of the
true God. A vague belief in some supernatural
power devoid of any attributes truly divine, is not
belief in God. Belief in a demon, a destroying
pow y er, belief even in benevolent spirits with human
limitations, which is all that seems to be held by
several nations, such a belief, I say, is not belief in
God. Now, if only that is to be held intuitive which
is consciously held by all, if nothing is an intuition
which is not consciously universal, then belief in
God is not an intuition, and the claim of conscious
universality for intuitioTi proves suicidal. .Fourthly,
there is all the difference between subjectivity and
objective validity between a universal belief
and a universal truth ; and even if the universality
of a belief were satisfactorily established, the reality
of its object would still be open to question. Opi-
nions which the progress of knowledge has shown
to be false, have sometimes prevailed universally or
all but universally. As Principal Caird truly says :
" The members of a community or society at the
same stage of intellectual or spiritual progress will
necessarily coincide in their general elementary
beliefs, and a time has been when the whole world


accepted, on the apparently irrefragable testimony
of sense, facts and ideas which the progress of
knowledge has proved to be futile." There was a
time when belief in witches and demons was univer-
sal or all but universal ; and it is quite possible that
many, or at any rate some, opinions which are now
universally or all but universally prevalent, will one
day be found quite groundless. We thus see that
the universality of a belief is no proof of its objective

Let us now consider the second characteristic
of intuition mentioned above, its immediacy, spon-
taneity or originality, all which convey substan-
tially the same idea. At a certain stage of our
progress we are all apt to attach great importance
to this characteristic of intuition. Of our belief in God,
we are at times inclined to think in the following
way : " I have examined all 4he ordinary sources of
belief and have found that it does not arise from any
of them. It is not derived from the testimony of
the senses, it is not the conclusion of a deductive or
inductive argument, it is not derived from the

lority of any scriptures or prophets, nor is it a
tradition handed down by venerable antiquity.
Hence I see that it is spontaneous." Now, it seems
to in*: that this appeal to spontaneity for proving

validity of a belief is nothing but a slightly

I pctltio prinripii. Why do you believe?

of comes, and comes spontaneously.

In plain language, it is nothing more or less than


saying, "I believe, because I believe," which is no-
reason at all and may very well be altogether spared.
If the only ground of our belief in God is that the belief
conies to us and comes spontaneously, though
there is no need for this addition, we have evident-
ly no right to call upon others who say that it does-
not come to them at all, spontaneously or otherwise,,
to accept our belief and make all manner of sacrifices
for it. We must also see that notwithstanding the
alleged spontaneity of the belief, it is subject
to occasional doubts. We see that it forsakes us now
and then and leaves us blindly groping in the dark,
Now, what is the worth of a test which places our
belief in God in the same category as the most tran-
sient impressions and ideas? Secondly, the analysis
which pronounces that a belief is not the conclusion
of a reasoning or a mere tradition, cannot be, in all
cases, trustworthy. The source from which a belief
was originally derive^ be it reasoning, tradition or
something else, may be forgotten and yet the belief
itself retain a strong hold upon us, if it is a universal
belief or a belief all but universal, or if it is a source
of comfort to us. I again quote from Principal
Caird : " To take for granted that notions or beliefs
which present themselves to the common mind spon-
taneously and without any conscious process of
reflection, are to be accepted as ultimate and underived,.
and therefore as absolutely true, would obviously be
a very haphazard procedure. For very little consider-
ation is needed to see that many notions or beliefs,
which occur to the mind with an air of spontaneity


and self -evidence, are the result of a process of
thought more or less complicated ; and again, that so
far from being incapable of question or verification,
such notions are not seldom nothing more than
unwarrantable popular assumptions. By a process
of arbitrary association, combinations of ideas may
unconsciously be formed of which the result assumes
to the mind the aspect of an ultimate and insoluble
necessity of thought, and almost any intense feeling
or inveterate belief, of which the origin is not
remembered, or which has been silently imbibed from
the intellectual atmosphere in which our minds have
grown up, becomes apparently its own evidence, and
supersedes all further need of rational proof. It is
obvious, therefore, that a feeling of conviction which
can be artificially produced cannot be adduced as
evidence that, in any given case, we have reached a
primary element of thought. "

Now, the above remarks almost dispose of the

third test of intuition mentioned above, namely
self-evidence. It labours under all the disadvantages
of a purely subjective test. What seems self-evident to
you does not apj . > me. To compare intuitions

to the axioms of geometry does not seem to prove
either relevant or effective ; for while the truth of the
latter are not open to question, that of the former is
challenged by thinkers of various schools. Unless,
therefore, self-evidence or necessity is explained in a
way that lends to it more of objectivity and univei'-
saliky than one finds in it in the explanation given by


the generality of Brahma writers, I do not see that
it possesses any advantage over the two tests we
have already disposed of. Such an explanation,
however, we meet with nowhere either in the works-
of the Maharshi and the Brahmananda, or in those
of Babus Rajnarayan Basil and Dvijendranath Thakur,
It is only when we come to the writings of Babu
Nagendranath Chatturji that we meet with a some-
what clear idea of necessity as applied to a proposition.
Babu Nagendranath does not make much use of the
idea, but he states it clearly in his lectures and submits
to the test proposed by him the one or two first
principles that he employs in his arguments. The
idea is to be found everywhere in recent English
works on Natural Theology, for instance in those of
Tulloch, Flint and Martineau. According to these
writers the necessity of a proposition means that its
opposite is inconceivable. A merely universal or all
but universal belief may be rejected by a smal^ but
strong minority. A belief which is spontaneous to
one may not be so to another. But a proposition
the opposite of which is inconceivable, has only to be
understood in order to be accepted as true. The
existence of God, say these writers, is one of such
truths. It stands upon the same evidence as
mathematical axioms. Just as it .cannot be con-
ceived that two straight lines can enclose a space, that
parallel straight lines can meet, etc., so it cannot be
conceived that there should be effects without a cause,,
that phenomena should exist without a noumenon,
that the finite should have any life except in the-


Infinite, etc. The reason why these propositions are
not universally felt to be neccesary, is that they are
not understood by all. The unbelief, polytheism or
idolatry of illiterate and thoughtless people can be ex-
plained by the fact that they do not understand the
ideas of first cause, spirit, noumenon and infinity, not
even the ideas of conceivability and inconceivability.
If they understood these ideas, they would be Theists.
The Agnosticism or Scepticism of cultured and
thoughtful people can be explained by the fact that
culture and thoughtfulness in one department of
knowledge do not necessarily imply these qualifica-
tions iu other departments, not certainly in those which
are far removed from the former by the nature of the
objects dealt with and by the method employed in
dealing with them. Professor Flint says that
' physicists, who can exhaustively analyse a
drop of water, show themselves quite incompetent
in analysing a thought. In this country we have
seen how shining University graduates and sharp
legal practitioners have proved themselves to be very
bad reasoners on social subjects, and acute politici-
ans have generally, in all countries, shown a very sad
lack of sound moral judgment.

Now, I think that the above view of intuition is

uilly correct. The test of inconceivability of

rightly understood, is a true test of intui-

the test, when only thus stated and

not further explained, is open to the same charge of

subjectivity wh; ;cs tin- ordinary Brahmic


view of self-evidence. What is inconceivable to one,
it may be rightly objected, may be conceivable to
another. What is inconceivable to you in the midst
of 3'our peculiar surroundings, may be conceivable to
others placed in quite different circumstances. What
is inconceivable now, at the present stage of our know-
ledge, may be conceivable when our knowledge will
have extended far beyond its present stage. The power
of conceiving differs in different places, times and stages
of culture. The diurnal motion of the earth, the exist-
ence of antipodes, etc., were once inconceivable, but
now, after the lapse of centuries of progress, they
are not only conceivable, but are well-established
scientific truths. The steam engine, the electric
telegraph, tramcar and railway, the telephone, the
phonograph, wireless telegraphy and other wonderful
discoveries of modern times would perhaps have
baffled the conceptions of our ancestors, but they are
now stern, tangible facts. So that, it may be argued,
the inconceivability of the opposite is an entirely
subjective test and no evidence of objective truth.
That one or even all cannot conceive the opposite
of a proposition, is no proof of its truth. Time or
different circumstances may make the now inconceiv-
able conceivable and thus prove the falseness of the



Now, it will be seen that the above objection is
based on a particular interpretation of the term
'inconceivability.' In it* inconceivability ' is almost
identified with ' unbelievability/ and the whole force


of the objection is due to this interpretation. But
'inconceivability ' has a deeper sense. It also means
4 unthinkableness ' or " inconsistency with the funda-
mental laws of thought," and in this sense it is true
that the inconceivable is untrue and its opposite true.
It is quite true that many things that are inconceivable
in the sense of unbelievable to some people, are not
inconceivable to all, and that believability being a
mere subjective and contingent state of mind, may
and does often differ in different times, places and
stages of knowledge, and is therefore not a safe test
of truth. But this is not true of the test of inconceiv-
ability of the opposite in the sense of unthinkableness
of the opposite inconsistency of the opposite with
the fundamental laws of thought. The motion of the
earth and the existence of antipodes might have been
once unbelievable on account, perhaps, of an appre-
hension that people standing on the opposite side
of the earth would be thrown over their heads,
but it cannot be said that these truths were, at that
time, unthinkable inconsistent with the fundamen-
tal laws of thought. People standing with their heads
downwards, with apparently nothing to keep them
from falling down, might once have been unbeliev-
able, but there was nothing to make it unpicturable
to the imagination. It is the same with other things
which were unbelievable with ancient people but are
^ved now. Notwithstanding the absence of
<>vidiMire to make them believable, they had nothing
in th'-in inconsistent with the fundamental lawsjof
thought. I f then, the true sense of ' inconceivability '


be ' unthinkableness,' " inconsistency with the funda-
mental laws of thought," a proposition the opposite
of which is inconceivable is a necessary proposition
and represents in that sense an intuitive belief.
Now, the laws that govern all analytic thought are
those of identity and non-contradiction. A proposi-
tion the opposite of which is self-contradictory
cannot but be true, since it then comes under the
law of identity ; and an identical proposition, a
proposition of which the predicate asserts nothing
but what is contained in the subject, cannot but be
true. The test of the inconceivability of the opposite
is thus nothing more or less than that of the
self-contradictoriness of the opposite or the identity
of the subject and the predicate. When the predicate
of a proposition expresses what is implied or
virtually contained in the subject, we know that the
proposition is necessarily true and its opposite false.


Now, as to the first principles of religion,
specially belief in the existence of an infinite and
morally perfect Being, what I mean by saying that
this belief is necessary and in that sense intuitive,
is that the non-existence of God is inconceivable,
unthinkable, that all propositions implying denial
or doubt of the existence of God the propositions
which form the basal principles of Scepticism and
Agnosticism are self-contradictory. It can be
shewn, I contend, by an analysis of our beliefs in
the world, in man and in a moral order of the
universe, that they all necessarily imply a belief


in an infinite and perfect Being. It can be shewn
that every perception, every thought, every particle
of knowledge, however acquired, and even our doubts
and misgivings, presuppose the existence of an
infinite, all-comprehending Spirit who runs through
all things and makes all things possible. In all that
we do, think and feel, we are obliged, by the funda-
mental laws of thought, to postulate, often uncon-
sciously, the existence of an infinite Life, an infinite
Love, as the necessary basis of all life and thought.
It can be shewn further that our apprehension of
God is not of the nature of a mere belief a belief
which, however necessary and deep-rooted in the
human mind, may or may not have a real object
answering to it. It can be shewn by analysing our
knowledge of ourselves and the world, that in know-
ing these we know God, and know him directly,
that our knowledge of the world and ourselves ia
really the knowledge of God, that in every act of
knowing we really know him, but recognise him not.
This recognition of God in all our cognitions is, I
hold, the result of a keen and searching analysis
of knowledge and the privilege of those who search
God through devout and reverent meditation.

But analysis presupposes a prior synthesis.

Theism could not be shewn to be in such perfect

accord \\ith the fundamental laws of thought, and

in and Agnosticism to be inconsistent with

e laws, it could not be shewn that the proposi-
tion ' <iod is trtii ' in its various forms, asserts nothing


in the predicate except what is contained in the sub-
ject unless the subject and predicate of this proposi-
tion were indissolubly connected in the unity of
experience. The idea of God is the synthetic
principle underlying all experience, internal and
external, subjective and objective, a principle that
contains and explains all other synthetic principles,
whether those of time and space, or of number, quan-
tity and quality, of substance, causality and reciprocity*
or of the good and the beautiful. As such this prin-
ciple is universal not all but universal, but unexcep-
tionably universal, underlying even the Atheist's
thought and experience. As such it is also spontaneous,
immediate or original, being above all proof, since it
is the very ground of all proof, of all thought and
experience. To help to bring this idea into con-
sciousness where it lies dormant, to bring it into clear
consciousness where it is only vaguely present, is the
task of the theologian.* It will thus be seen what^ an
incalculable amount of deep reflection and searching
investigation is needed for the proper understanding
of intuitive truths. Intuition is, in one sense, the
most familiar of all things ; in another sense, it is one
of those things which it is most difficult to under-
stand and realise. Though the very basis of all
thought and experience, it is apt to be confounded
with the many fancies and superstitions incidental to
our natural limitations and thus become subject to
doubt. It is only by deep thought and spiritual in-
sight that it can be seen in its true nature and
restored to a conscious dominion over the soul. We

THE MAHAKSHI ON Atmapratyaya. 93

often think we know enough of Intuition to need
any thought and discussion on the subject. And yet
we always complain of the weakness of our faith.
That shows that we have not felt the power of true In-
tuition. Intuition is faith, and faith, as Kesavchandra
Sen truly says, is direct vision. He alone is a true
Intuitionist, he alone knows what Intuition truly
is, to whom faith has become as clear as sight, who
sees God as clearly as he sees himself and the world.


So far I have given you a critical exposition
of the doctrine of Intuition common to all Brahma
writers. We may very well stop here. But as
there is yet some time at our disposal, and you
are not, I hope, yet tired, I may as well notice
something peculiar in Maharshi Devendranath
Thakur's teachings about Intuition. The Maharshi
seems to use the word dtmapratyaya, which he uses
more frequently than the more common term
saTiaj-jndn, in two senses : the first being our inborn
faith in God and other non-sensuous realities.
The other sense in which he uses it is our conscious-
ness of our own self and the testimony which this
consciousness bears to the existence of the infinite
Si-lf. I shall let the Maharshi himself speak. I
translate a passage from his fifth lecture at the
BhowanipurJ-'raliina Vidy ilaya : " Since I am, there-
r.nhman, my Creator, Preserver and Guide,
is, this is dtmapratyai/a. The person who is my
Creator, 1'n-st TV r and Guide, is my well-wisher,

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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 6 of 23)