In Yoga, faith is to be the basis for inquiry; faith has the technical meaning of pursuing inquiry unflinchingly. Fanatical faith, on the other hand, refuses to think of any questioning, and in this it is just like fanatical scepticism. Fanatical faith refuses inquiry on the ground that inquiry is not needed because the truth is already completely known: fanatical scepticism equally refuses inquiry, but on the ground that it is impossible that anything should be revealed. Fanatical scepticism is popularly supposed to be more `scientific’ than fanatical faith, but in fact both are emotional attitudes and neither is based on reason or experiment.
The great chemist Mendeleyev, an intuitive genius, constructed the periodic table of the elements, and predicted the existence and qualities of some elements which were not then known. These predictions were largely fulfilled. Mendeleyev had had an intuitive certainty, which was then confirmed. But Mendeleyev and the other leading chemists of his time began to believe the last word had been said; that the elements were indestructible, unalterable in their mass, unalterable in their properties.
The great Helmholz in 1869 declared that the evidence was conclusive. It is important to know that Mendeleyev himself became rigid in his conviction that there could be nothing further than what his intuition had revealed. (This is a frequent experience on the mystical path also). In 1889 he still brushed aside, as unworthy of consideration, the view that some developments in physics might point toward the existence of something more fundamental than the elements. The overwhelming weight of opinion-nay, certainty-was for him.
Yet, as a matter of fact, already in 1886 the brilliant intuitions of Crookes, which he made public in a speech to the British Association, were pointing towards the possibility of breaking up the elements. Crookes in 1886 could not conceive of any possible means of breaking up an element, but he expressly indicated that the key might be found in the units of electricity, and he anticipated the existence of what thirty years later came to be called the isotopes of an element, adding the remarkable prediction that not all isotopes of an element might be equally stable. He even put in a speculation about `negative elements’ an anticipation of our present inferences about ‘anti-matter’.
The manner in which Crookes foresaw the future developments of his science illustrated the remarkable pattern: the discoveries to come reveal themselves only to those who refuse to accept the actually existing scientific synthesis (in this case Mendeleyev’s table) as the stage beyond which one would look in vain.
The history of science is full of examples of new insights which were opposed vehemently by the most eminent scientists of the day in the name of scientific scepticism. It is only recently that hypnotism has become respectable. In the middle of the last century, London University ordered one of its Professors, Dr. Elliotson, to cease his researches on it; he refused and resigned his chair. This was before the discovery of chemical anaesthetics; hundreds of operations had been performed with patients hypnotized and unconscious of pain. But some medical journals refused to publish the reports, sometimes claiming that the patients had been `pretending’ to feel no pain. Well into this century hypnotism was still dismissed as mere quackery (and we have to remember that there were in fact many charlatans associated with its practice). Now it is one of the officially recognized benefits of the National Health Service, and is used for example to control otherwise intractable pain.
On the other hand, scepticism is not always wrong. There are many things dismissed as charlatanry which are in fact nothing more. But when there is a substantial body of evidence, it is bigotry which refuses to examine it, or which looks at only one or two doubtful cases and then dismisses the subject.
In Yoga, faith does not mean dogmatic assertion; it means sustained inquiry. Mere dogmatic assertion can often be overturned by a shock, and then it can become equally dogmatic scepticism. The reverse is also true.
Nor does faith mean taking up some initial attitude and then singling out confirmations of it, glossing over contradictions. As a matter of fact, the Yoga training will not confirm the individual in his initial attitudes. It is bound to make radical changes in his character and his thinking, because the ordinary attitudes are based on an illusory conception of the self. The initial understanding of even the yogic statements will change radically. Faith leads to yogic practice, and yogic practice means harnessing all the forces of the body and mind into one master search-such a mode of life is called the pursuit, or practice, of Brahman.
A weaker form of emotional scepticism is doubt. Doubt makes no particular assertion of its own, but simply carps at any proposition, the hidden motive being to prevent inquiry or action.
There is no place for doubt in Yoga-or even in the world. “Both in this world and the next, the habitual doubter perishes” says the Gita. In the yogic philosophy and practice, a point is either settled, unsettled, or in process of being settled; whereas to the habitual doubter, a point is now settled, and now unsettled, or else when the inquiry reaches a certain crucial point, the mind turns away and some new doubt is created. So no firm conclusion can ever be reached. Such are the people who ask numerous questions, but show no interest in the answers, because their mind has already shifted its ground.
The preliminary study in Yoga must be conducted as systematically as an expert analyzes a chess position. He first selects likely lines, and then one by one analyses them out. (It is an interesting fact, as De Groot showed in an elaborate study of the thinking of chess masters, that the greatest genius inexplicably chooses for his first analysis the line which ultimately turns out to be the best.) Once a conclusion is reached about a set of moves, it is noted carefully, and the line is not explored further.
The beginner however looks at a move and analyses it superficially, but before his analysis is complete he goes on to another. Midway through this second try, the thought strikes him that perhaps the first move was better than he had thought, and he tries it again. Still without reaching a conclusion, he tries a third.
Frequently, beginners first reject an obvious looking move because of some clear counter to it; then they analyse a number of other moves, and finally in a panic revert to the first move and make it, completely forgetting that it was the first one to be rejected. So after ten minutes’ thought they make an elementary blunder. The thinking was not progressive.
It can be the same in Yoga. Beginners often take it up without any serious attempt to find out its basis. Then, at the time of meditation, doubts continually disturb them.
Because they have never systematically inspected these objections, they attempt to solve them on the spot, and the result is confusion. The true student has examined such thoughts, and when they arise in meditation he can brush them aside.
“No, I have been into that, and it is not a valid objection.”
Yoga depends on faith, practice, and verification in experience. Yoga must be taken into the sphere of living consciousness, not merely subscribed to as a philosophical or ethical or religious principle.
The central truth of the Yoga practice in Vedanta is the Great Saying (Mahavakya) “That thou art”.
`That’ is the supreme Reality, the Lord; His existence everywhere, in all, but also transcending all, is accepted on the basis of authority of the great sages, experts in the science of reality. The word `art’ brings `That’ out of the realm of mere concepts into the realm of one’s own existence; `That’ is the very Self of the seeker. To find this hidden Self, the Yogi has to discover what he himself (‘thou’) really is.
While he still identifies himself with the body or mind, the Great Saying will mean little in practice. He may believe it-or think that he believes it-but while his consciousness is still dominated by the changes in body and mind, while he is still not responsive to the divine urges and inspirations from within, it is still only an idea. Urges are known because to be divine when they rob him of selfishness and lethargy, and give him a universal vision and an understanding of the role that his body and mind are to play in the world.
The Great Saying appears in all the true religions
“Allah is nearer to you than your neck-vein.” “All beings are from the very beginning Buddhas.” “Ye are Gods.” (This is the Psalm text to which holy Christ appealed when He uttered his own Great Saying, “I and the Father are one”.) “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”
Still, it is rather easy to accept them without considering them as practical truths.
One of the great Zen masters relates that when he was a child he was brought up in a temple. So he learnt many of the Sutras by heart, and in due course he became a monk. Then he entered upon his training. He used to meditate at the prescribed times on phrases like “All beings are from the very beginning Buddhas.” He says he knew it was true, and that he knew he knew it. So there was not really very much more to be done.
However when he began to have interviews with the Master in the course of his training at the special training temple, this complacency was shaken. When the Master said, “What are you?” he would reply happily, “I am Buddha”; but then the Master shook him and said, “Then express your Buddha nature! Speak, speak!”
He repeated, “Well, the Buddha-nature is within me.” To add a little more corroboration, he quoted one of the well known phrases: “My Original Face, before father or mother was born.” The Master shouted: “Show me that Original Face-quick, quick!”
He discovered quotations would get him nowhere, and tried some of the unusual actions which he had read about, as answers to Zen crises. The teacher was displeased. “Don’t pick up masks-show me your own Original Face.”
He became desperate. One evening he went to the main hall of the temple and sat down to try to arrive at an answer that would satisfy the teacher. He sat on and on into the night. The head monk, a strict man of whom he stood in awe, happened to come into the hall. Meditating with his eyes open, as is the Zen rule, he saw the head monk come across in front of him. To his amazement, the monk prostrated himself, said quietly, “Reverence to the Buddha,” and went away.
First he sat bewildered. Then he felt that there was a Buddha within him. But to his astonishment, the next day the head monk treated him just as before, ordering him around and scolding him when he made a mistake. He thought, “Perhaps it is when I am in meditation periods that the Buddha is manifest.” But at the time of the meditation periods, the head monk beat him (as is their custom) like the rest. Then he wondered whether it was when he was meditating alone outside the prescribed periods. So, late at night he sat alone on a rock in the garden, when the others were asleep. He half hoped the head monk would come and prostrate himself again.
Nothing happened, and he was thinking about going to bed when he received a tremendous buffet on the back. The head monk had crept up behind him. He caught him by the arm and shouted, “Speak, speak!” When he hesitated, the monk pushed him away and went back to his own quarters.
© Trevor Leggett