Longform Description of Idealism

WE MUST begin to philosophise with the hard facts of experience, not with the unchecked presuppositions of fancy. Knowledge that does not begin with experience can never attain certainty but only dwell in the region of conjecture.

But, alas! the first fact is an extremely awkward one. Experience itself is not really what it seems to be. The suggestive studies of the earlier volume in the relativity of time and space, the startling glimpses of the magical spell which Illusions can cast upon us, the revelatory discoveries of the mentalistic nature of all things no less than the semantic analyses of meanings and the words in which they are clothed, have combined to put us on our guard against the deceptions of the senses and the tricks of consciousness; in short, to make us somewhat wary of this thing that is called experience.

Man fits every experience into the pattern of his existing ideas. It seldom occurs to him that his pattern is so faulty and so limited that only by going outside it can he find out what his experience really means. Kant in his speculative way and Einstein in his scientific way have told and taught us that Ordinary human perception is confined to mere appearances; that, indeed, it never gets at what is ultimate in this world and is condemned to view the God of Reality under graven Content/images. We know only what the senses tell us. Our experience is purely relative to them. Therefore we never get at the absolute truth about things but only at the way they affect our senses.

Let us look at a simple example. It is well known that our eyes are constructed like little cameras. Now if Nature had constructed them instead, as she could easily have done, like little microscopes we should all see every day a world astonishingly different from the one which we actually do see, whilst if she had constructed them like little telescopes we should all see an amazingly different sky every night. She could have altered the vibration-range of our ears so that they would catch numerous clear sounds where at present we catch only dead silence. Nay, she could have gone still further. We have five kinds of sense experience but Nature could just as easily have given us five extra senses, an addition which would have magically transformed us into superhuman beings. Who knows that these things may not yet happen, albeit with evolutionary slowness; that Nature may not take it into her head one day to alter her handiwork in this fashion?

Again, the eye sees a smooth surface when it sees a polished table-top whereas through a powerful microscope it sees the same table-top as an extremely rough surface composed of miniature hills and valleys. Are we to believe the naked eye or the microscope? This analogy is a just one. For the unphilosophical majority are also surface seers. They do not suspect that relativity governs all existence, including their own. Thus everything has a double character or aspect and this is why we need a double standpoint. Are we to take only the practical view or also the philosophic one?

We perceive only partially and incompletely when we perceive anything through the senses. When we set up the presentations of the eyes, ears, hands, tongue and nose, that is when we set up human experience as really being what it purports to be, we are merely surface seers. The things of our experience really bear to the things as they are in themselves a relation resembling that of the hat, coat, shirt, trousers, and shoes which a man wears to the man himself. The senses help us to know certain things only by shutting out many more things from our range of experience. Hence to know the world as it really is, we would have to expand our field of awareness to a higher dimension.

When two railway trains are moving in the same direction at the same speed, a passenger seated at a carriage window in one train will not witness any movement on the part of a traveller seated in the other train. Each would, in fact, regard the other as stationary if he had only the evidence of sight to inform him. This is a familiar everyday experience both of the meaning of relativity and the meaning of illusion. We cannot trust all we experience as being accurate nor can we trust all accurate experience as being more than merely relative. To be aware of anything is to be aware of its relations, both to other things and to oneself. Therefore knowledge can exist only by being based on relations, that is to say, it is always relative. The philosopher must split knowledge into two forms: (a) the state of things as they are presented to our five senses (b) the state of things as they really are in their essential nature. The first yields a view based on appearances whereas the second yields a truer one. Taken merely by and for itself the practical standpoint must necessarily confess that truth is unattainable, but taken as a pointer to the need of an absolute standard of reference, it plays its part in the quest of truth. The appeal to practical criterions may silence our doubts about the reality of what is given to us in material experience but it will not solve them. For to understand reality we must first understand the unreal.

It is not so easy to tell what a ‘thing’ is as the man who has never stopped to reflect upon the point may believe. For, guided by the unquestioned impressions which he gets through the eyes and fingers, he takes it for granted that it is obviously at rest arid remains constantly the same, when in fact there is such a continual circulation of its secret elements, such a shifting play of its electrons, for example, that the thing in itself slips through intellectual fingers as ungraspable. This seems strange and sounds absurd, yet, scientifically viewed, things in their ultimate character are indeed fields of electronic and protonic energies moving at prodigious speeds. Nowhere in this vast universe is there, strictly speaking, such a state as absolute rest. Whenever we believe that something has been found in such a state, we merely entertain an illusion. For its rest is only relative. It is, as Einstein has pointed out, only an appearance of rest. Actually even the particles of a stone lying seemingly inert by the roadside are swarming in incessant motion.

If we penetrate into the hidden structure of the microcosmic world of atoms, what do we find? Its electrons are constantly rotating, its protons ceaselessly vibrating. If we look into the human consciousness we find it in motion with a constant whirl of thought and sensations. Is there any thought which has more than a momentary existence? When we analyse our consciousness we find that thoughts too numerous to count stream through it. They succeed one another incessantly. They are born in an instant but die the next moment.

Mentalism demonstrates that our experience of the whole world is nothing but our thoughts of it. These thoughts, as will be explained in detail, have no continuous existence and vanish only to be succeeded by others which are similar (but not identical) and thus give the illusion of smooth continuity. Hence the world we know is in a state of ever-becoming rather than of settled being. Thus a law of movement rules everything material and mental. Now motion implies unsettlement, the dropping of an old position, thing or thought for a new one: that is it implies change. But this makes the universe not so much a structure as a flow. The reality of the world lies in its restlessness. The vaunted stability and solidity which the senses place before us are mere appearances – this is the verdict of reason. Such therefore is the inescapable illusoriness of the form which human experience takes.

A mechanism which is used for night advertising signs nicely illustrates this point. If two small adjacent boxes are fitted with electric bulbs which are made by a suitable mechanism to light up alternately, at any single moment either one of the bulbs will be illuminated or none. Yet whoever looks at them will see a continuous light flickering back and forth from left to right and back again. Even at the moment when no burning bulb is registered on the retina of the eyes, when no glowing light is actually in existence, the eyes report the contrary! Here we must remember our earlier studies, which demonstrated that the mental process involved in seeing sense-illusions and the mental process involved in seeing so-called material things, are similar.

Provided sufficient heat is brought to bear upon it, there is no substance, not even the hardest of metals, which cannot be melted and then transformed into gaseous vapour. And provided sufficiently powerful microscopic investigation is brought to bear upon a gas, it reveals itself as made up of scintillating points of light which are in perpetual movement. And yet ordinarily the senses tell us nothing of light as being, from the scientific standpoint, the ultimate stuff of the universe or of restlessness as being the ultimate state of the universe!

There is never a moment when the perpetual world-vibration pauses, never a fraction of a moment when the oscillation of any atomic energy-.comes to rest. Nothing abides. Because it wants to be more truthful, science has recently come to speak in its descriptions of Nature as consisting not of things but rather of a tissue of events, a continuous series of happenings, that is a process.

We cannot trust our eyes and ears and hands in this matter for their range is too limited to show us the true of Nature. Only the untutored and unscientific now hold the naive belief that the world is solid stable and stationary otherwise than in appearance. For they set up the familiar experiences of everyday as their standard of explanation. Theirs is the ‘finger-philosophy’ which makes what is felt by the fingers into a criterion of ultimate reality! This common conception of the world is of course, essential for practical life because it has a limited truth of its own, but when we rise to the philosophic standpoint we discover that it does not resist scrutiny. Perfectly right though it be in its own place, such a view becomes wrong here. For it does not exhaust all the possibilities of the universe. Thus reason reverses the judgment of the senses and philosophy silences the voice of opinion. “Culture inverts the vulgar views of Nature . . . Children, it is true, believe in the external world. The belief that it appears only is an afterthought,” was Emerson’s wise comment in his Essay on Nature.

What science has discovered with the help of cunning instruments ancient sages discovered more than two thousand years ago with the help of concentrated thought alone. “No man can twice enter the same river,” asserted Greek Heracleitus. “Whoever perceives in truth and wisdom how things pass away in this world, in his eyes there is not ‘It is’ in this world,” declared Indian Buddha, who also pointed out that nothing remains the same for two consecutive moments.

But still farther back in time than these two men was this doctrine taught by ancient sages from Asia in the East to America in the West. They taught, exactly like modern scientists, that the entire universe is in incessant motion and that this motion takes a rotatory, wheel-like circular form. And they went still further by pointing out that as the point where a circle originally begins or ends can not be indicated, so the points in space or in time where the cosmos originally begins or ends can not be indicated too. It is indeed quite immeasurable. Hence they represented both the way in which the world is made and the immeasurable flow of things within it under the illustrative symbol of the Swastika, which is another form of the wheel. Its crossed spokes stand for the polar axis crossed by the equatorial line whilst its rotating activity stands for the fact that the earth is dynamic and not dead ‘matter.’

Science has turned solid matter inside-out and found it practically empty. The emptiness of material substance is disproportionately and fantastically immense when compared with the tininess of the electrons incessantly moving within it. This means that the very ground we walk on is almost wholly empty space. But our sense of touch makes it feel firm, compact, motionless and impenetrable. This particular sense furnishes us indeed with an illusory experience, due of course to the limited range within which it can work. It is not surprising therefore that, as even more important facts have unfolded themselves, some prominent scientists have already begun to affix their reluctant sanction to the belated discovery that materialism, the doctrine that everything which is present in physical sense experience is the final reality, the belief that the concept called ‘matter’ does represent something which is the ultimate existent thing within such experience, the view that the universe consists only of this matter in motion, is an untenable theory.

The old science said that the physical world is merely a shifting mass of rigid lumps of cold dead matter, of indivisible particles called atoms. But when asked what was this substance which it named matter, it became somewhat incoherent. It could not explain without admitting that vast unsolved mysteries were involved in the answer. And finally the new twentieth-century facts, which were first discovered out of the apparent emptiness of a vacuum-tube and later developed out of experimental research into subatomic working, forced the old science to liquidate itself. With it went the belief in an ultimate matter which exists in space, changes in time and affords a foundation for the universe.

The new science now openly declares that atoms are not the last word nor matter the last substance. Atoms have been divided and found to be ‘waves.’ Waves of what? we ask. Certainly not of matter but of energy, it replies. A sum of dynamic processes has replaced the old-time storehouse of inert substances. But beyond the discoveries made by radio-active research was the revolution begun by relativity theory and carried further by quantum mechanics. For this has replaced the old-time world-structure of inert substance by a series of dynamic events. The worlds is not a stable one but a process of happenings. The universe is a ‘becoming’ – not a thing, and certainly not a material thing. The world’s stuff is not an inert mass but a series of changeful happenings. We live, in short, in a world where the first and final reality is not an immobile thing but an ever-active force which, astonishing but true, appears as though it were a thing.

Thus the scientists who have discarded belief in matter still believe in energy. The latter has become their ultimate ‘stuff’. But the energy out of which they would derive the world, is as uncertain as matter. leer when we ask for its production we get only its supposed “transformations”, that is, sound, heat, light, etc. We do not find a pure energy-in-itself. Why? Because it is a conceptual creation useful only for practical purposes. Scientists have never perceived it. All that they have perceived of it are its appearances of sound, light, heat, etc., but never the isolated energy itself. As a detectable reality, it is still as uncatchable as matter. As a mathematical theory for practical purposes and as a calculator’s symbol for technological purposes it takes a useful place, but it is still a supposition. It is supposed to work behind the universal movement, but it has never yet been exposed to view.

In the end, the final justification of the materialist is not reason, as he so fondly thinks, but mere belief. For it is only by an act of simple faith that he accepts the testimony of sense-experience. The science of the nineteenth century boasted that it alone dealt with the real world. The relativistic science of the twentieth century has begun ruefully to adroit that it can deal only with a world of abstractions. For it has found that it is handling only some particular characteristics of a thing – nothing more – and certainly not the thing in itself. It is steadily moving in a particular direction which will compel it – and this prediction will be fulfilled during our own century – in the end to see, through its own facts and its own reasoning, that the world-stuff is of the same tissue as that out of which our own ideas are made. It will then be seen that energy is not the prime root of the universe, that ultimate reality being mental in character cannot be limited to it and that it is but one of the chief aspects of this reality and not an independent power in itself. Mind is itself the source of the energy to which science would reduce the universe. Energy will be found, in short, to be an attribute of mind, something possessed by mind in the same way that the power to speak is possessed by man. This is not of course that feeble thing which is all we humans usually know of mind and which is but a shadow, but the reality which casts the shadow, the universal Mind behind all our little minds which we shall shortly study here.

Modern science began by studying and describing the properties of things; it can end only by discovering their ultimate substance. But in order to attain this end it is slowly being forced, by the revolutionary significance of its own discoveries, to turn a somersault which will land it in metaphysics. In the end its final conclusions must merge themselves into those of metaphysics, which has found out that matter is nothing more than a mere verbal invention and that energy is nothing more than the activity of mind.

Scientists may well tell us after deep research that all physical substance is in incessant motion and that its atoms are congeries of whirling energies, but all the same we really do see solid and stable things. No argument can do away with the plain fact of this everyday experience. We stand in the presence of a startling paradox. How shall it be resolved? Can we take two conceptions which stand so far apart, so widely opposite, and bring them together? The answer is yes. Sunlight, when passed through a clear glass prism, turns out to be not what it seems for it breaks up into seven colors. A diamond scintillates in the light yet it has the same chemical constitution as a piece of black charcoal. First sight is therefore not necessarily true sight. The senses can tell us something about things as they appear to be but little about things as they really are. And if we turn back to the first volume of this work we can learn through the investigation of illusions that it is perfectly possible to see different forms and shapes which have no other existence than mental existence.

If we see a thing at perfect rest and science tells us it is really in a state of perpetual restlessness, then we are entitled to conclude that the anomaly is caused by the limitations of our own perceptions which in the end are only our own consciousness. The stability which we see cannot be anything else than a mentally constructed one. We are entitled to relegate the thing’s actuality to the realm where it must have always been, namely, of the mind. This is the fundamental meaning of all changes of form as it is the fundamental explanation of all relativity. The paradox becomes rationally explicable and thus disappears if eve realize that when our experience of the time-space-matter world is traced to its hidden origin, it reveals itself as mentally made.

Thinking and feeling make up the world we know, for every sensation is thought or felt as such. In what, apart from the entire congeries of: ideas and emotions, does this world consist? There is nothing else. There is no physical world in the sense in which the unenlightened man assumes there is one. There is only a continuous series of thoughts which manifest themselves from moment to moment except in dreamless sleep. Perception and thought are but leases of the mind’s action with the first depending on the last. We think and the world appears. We lapse into thoughtlessness, and the world disappears. The conclusion that the mind and the world are inextricably intertwined is inescapable. When we make a final analysis of the whole world, it is found to be of very different stuff from that which it appears to be. For every individual material object from solid rock to fleecy cloud, resolves itself into ~ fragment of mind, i. e., an idea. The immense multitude of such fragments whose totality forms the universe are nothing else than varying modifications of a single original element – Mind. We Must glimpse this great truth that Mind, as a non-material essence, is the ultimate being out of which both energy and matter have been born.

The World’s Relativity

Mentalism derives its name from its fundamental principle that Mind is the only reality, the only substance, the only existence; thinks being our ideas and ideas finding their support in our mind. Mentalism in short is the doctrine that in the last analysis there is nothing but Mind.

Experience certainly seems to place things outside it but the mentalist analysis reveals that they are mental products and hence we cannot really step outside them – because we cannot step outside our mind. It was shown in the first volume, when considering the enigmatic existence of the world and when turning the searchlight of scientific examination upon the working of our five senses, that the objects of which they become aware have their place only in the mind and that the whole world is a mentally constructed one. It was not possible however in such an introductory book to provide adequate explanation and final proof of this doctrine of mentalism – so startling and so unbelievable as it seems when first heard of – or to clear up some inevitable difficulties and explore fully into its profounder significance. The present work may help to fill this gap.

When we look more deeply into the physical world, whether it be in the form of common experience or in the form of scientific revaluation of that experience, we find that it is really the world of what our senses tell us. Our senses can only tell us about the colour, size, bulk, weight, form, hardness, temperature and other properties of a thing; they can not tell us that there is also a separate stuff or ‘matter’ which exhibits these properties. When we say that there is such a stuff we are merely stating an opinion, not a piece of knowledge. For when we look more deeply into what the senses tell us we find that it is what our own minds tell us.

Everyone grants that we are aware of things in the world only in the way in which our senses are aware of the properties they exhibit. But the mere physical contact of the senses and their environment does not suffice to produce such awareness. Something more is needed. Only as we are mentally conscious of what the senses tell us are we conscious of the world at all. Strive as we may, do what we like, it will always be impossible to get over this ‘mentalness’ of the only world about which we have any right to talk. Not even the materialists can get over it. Not even they can show us a world entirely free from such ‘mentalness’.

The term ‘mentalism’ as used here does not mean the half-baked form which, under the name of ‘objective idealism’; some of its elementary tenets have assumed in the doctrines of a number of Western and Indian metaphysicians who have only half-overcome the materialistic tendencies of their outlook. They distinguish between mental things and material things and say that although we can know only the former, the co-existence of their material external counterparts must still be admitted. By mentalism we mean more precisely this: that all things in human experience without any exception are wholly and entirely mental things and are not merely mental copies of material things; that this entire panorama of universal existence is nothing but a mental experience and not merely a mental representation of a separate material existence, that we can arrive at such not only by a straight-line sequence of reasoned thinking but also by a reorientation of consciousness during advanced mystical meditation.

But the materialist in his turn may now put in a pertinent nose to allege that mentalism would theoretically blot out the entire existence of the universe before it could appear in a perceiving mind, for whilst the planet was uninhabited during tremendous periods of geologic time there would exist no human being to think of it, no idea to represent it. Therefore it could not be accounted for! Here too the orthodox religious critic may object that no human observer could ever have observed either the event of divine creation or the period of planetary preparation which followed it – for human beings had yet to be created by God – and consequently no human mind could have personally known anything about it at the time; thus no idea of it could have come into existence.

Some preface is necessary before this criticism can be answered. Now whether we view the present- day world which is perceived by the senses as consisting of so many separate ideas in consciousness or as so many separate appearances to an observer, we cannot bring it to stand utterly alone and isolated in a self-dependent existence. Something unifies all these shifting items of experience, tethers all these varied external events together. When we work out their significance we find that this thread on which they are strung is the mind which knows them. Some perceiving mind must always be present at the same time along with them for they are in it and of it. The sequence of experiences gets its continuity from the experiencing mind’s own continuity. There is no self-sustained reality, no independent existence in the known world – which is the only one we can intelligently consider – apart from mind. Whatever is thought, felt or observed is somehow related to a mind which thinks feels or observes.

To believe that ideas can exist separately without a thinking being to hold or generate them is to believe an absurdity. We get the knowledge of the world’s existence through the five senses only because we also get the knowledge that we ourselves exist. Ideas cannot hang in the empty air. They must have a ground upon which to rest. That ground is there always, whether it supports thoughts or not. It is this mental principle which enables us to doubt the face-value of material appearances because their own existence refers to it. To think of the world at all pre-supposes the simultaneous existence of a thinking mind.

Now the thinking self is surrounded by the not-self, that is, by everything external to its body. Whatever is included within this external sphere is called the world. The two cannot be separated. The very idea of a self implies its being distinguished from what is not the self, that is, what is external to it. Therefore both presuppose each other’s existence. The self exists through its world and its world exists through it; both are inter-locked. For although felt in experience as separate and opposed, they are known in analysis as joined and united. They always appear together, always exist together and always vanish together. Actuality does not yet permit us to separate this relation between the two. They are always present together in ordinary consciousness, never in our common experience is the mere self alone.

Much of the materialism which professes itself unable to understand mentalism because it is blinded by what it feels to be the striking contrast of outside things to inside thoughts, is due to the neglect of noticing that they are only distinguishable but not separable from the knowing self. These two elements in any kind of experience – the knowing self and the known not-self – always stand as contraries but this does not prevent them from being in indissoluble union in every act of awareness of such experience. They may seem apart in space but they are not apart in the awareness itself. A thing cannot be disconnected from some knowing consciousness and our studies in illusion have shown that this ‘mentalness’ need not prevent it from being experienced as external to the body.

Thus whatever we experience is always coupled along with the experiencing self, or, in the more technical language of Einstein, the observer enters into every observation. Hence the two are inseparably coupled in each indivisible moment of individual consciousness. The belief that the world-idea can exist without being present to some such consciousness is absurd.

With this preamble it is time to take up our critics’ objections again. The nebula which cooled down into the solar system, deposited its strata and upheaved its mountain ranges, no less than the gigantic dinosaurs and myriad herds of vanished animals, are said to have preceded us in time. The sciences of geology astronomy and biology have painted a fascinating picture of the prehistoric past for us. But it is still only a picture. And what else than consciousness now renders it existent to us? We forget that after all these are only our mental reconstructions, that is our imaginations. All that we know of the Stone Age in Europe, for example, is something constructed by our imagination We imaginatively depict it as being abruptly seen by someone. The fact of an imagination existing points beyond itself to the existence of a mind. The fact of an appearance points to a living observer of this appearance. Neither an imagination nor an appearance can be accounted for unless it is traced to some such consciousness.

If the principle of relativity when thoroughly understood has revealed each thing as an appearance, the latter implies the existence of some thinking being to whom it appears. What is said about the world’s earlier life by the physical and biological sciences, for instance, cannot be said save as implying the presence of an unconsciously supposed living observer who is able to think it. For how can the brown rocks and blue seas be thought of at all unless they are thought of as being seen? And how can anything be seen at all unless it is seen in someone’s consciousness? The two things – scene and sight, the existent and the known – exist in an almost mystical union. Whom Nature hath joined together let no man put asunder! Has not the teaching of relativity revealed that, consciously or unconsciously, the observer is always there in every act of perception as in every act of description?

It should now be clear that in the objections raised by both the materialist and religious critics, there is present an unreckoned observer, for even when they think of a time when the planet was uninhabited they are only thinking of it in terms of some mind’s perception of it; nor is it possible for them to do otherwise. A planet apart from such perception simply does not and cannot exist. By sheer necessity, they unconsciously place themselves or else some imagined living observer in a perceptive relation with the uninhabited planet and then only proceed to talk about it! They can think of no existence which is not known existence. The world-scene from which they believe they have conveniently eliminated an observer, presupposes by its very existence the coexistence of such an observer! Whoever sets out to mention or describe an uninhabited world or an unvisited scene is forced to assume as the basis of his reference the presence of someone who experiences either world or scene.

It is quite a misconception of the position of mentalism to make it assert that the world does not exist when we are not thinking of it or that a mountain disappears when there is no man to behold it but revives again when somebody is present! This is only the critic’s assertion of what he wrongly believes mentalism to be. What mentalism really asserts is that the world’s existence in itself without a knowing mind alongside it can never be established. Every materialist unconsciously assumes the presence of such a mind when he assumes that the world can exist independently. A world which is not an object of consciousness has yet to be found. Even when he thinks the world away from himself and foolishly believes that it is still present independently of a percipient mind, he is quite unaware of the fact that he is setting up an invisible spectator to whom it must appear as the world. Let him try to talk of a bygone planetary scene or an unvisited polar region without talking of it in terms of some being’s perception of it; the feat cannot be done.

If finally it be objected that the world does not actually disappear from existence when we cease to think it, as during deep sleep for example, the answer is that if by this the critic means that it does not disappear for the sleeping man then the objection is utterly inadmissible, but if he means it continues to exist for those who are awake the mentalist must agree with him completely in this. What he overlooks in the former case is that the thesis still remains for he has again unconsciously thought an imaginary spectator into being and made him the unsleeping observer of the world, which now exists in the mind of this imagined percipient.

Finally let us not forget what is an irreversible law of all world experience: full suspension of the mind’s activity results in sleep or coma, full resumption of it in wakefulness. The deduction must therefore be made that the mind’s activity, namely, thinking, is indissolubly connected with the experience of the world that comes with wakeful state. Indeed, it is this very activity that gives rise to such experience. For mind and nothing else contributes all the elements of its own experience. And this is all that mentalism claims, that the known and existent coincide and defy the efforts of the keenest intelligence to sunder them.

If we really try to think of a mindless world, we find the feat to be an impossible one. For existence presupposes life of some sort and life presupposes intelligence of some sort, too. And intelligence indicates of course the presence of mind. Consequently, if we take mind out of the world, we are forced to take away the world itself. There is then only an utter blankness. If we understand this, then the question what happens to the world during the inter-perceptual intervals between the periods of actual awareness of its presence and the kindred question of how a pre-historic uninhabited planet could have been observed become impossible and consequently unaskable ones. The questions are wrongly put: they presuppose what cannot be admitted and no answer is therefore possible. An unobserved landscape itself certainly ceases to exist for us the moment we turn away and cease to see it but a similar idea may continue to have an independent existence in other observing minds. But the problem involved can be reshaped and re-expressed in other terms: What mind is involved in these cases?

After all, this world in which we live move and have our being every moment and every hour, comes to our notice only because our body is sensitive to it in five different ways, because we feel, see, hear, smell and taste it. Its colours shapes and distances, for example, exist for us only because they exist for our eyes. They are experiences of the eyes; they are sense-impressions. But sense impressions are themselves meaningless if they are not supported by or given to an individual mind which has them. If the reality of the known world lies in sense-impressions, then the reality of such impressions lies in a living mind. The individual, therefore, stands behind the world although, paradoxically, he is also included in the world.

This paradox must be cleared. For if we make the mind of an individual the sole source of his experience, then we fall into the piquant situation of making him the sole creator and governor of this vast and varied cosmos of shooting stars and circling planets. But this is an absurdity. His mind may issue a decree but a tree will refuse to turn into a river at his bidding. It stubbornly remains a tree. Therefore it is clear that there must be another factor somehow present underneath the individual experience of the world, a creative and contributive factor which is as beyond his control as it is beyond his consciousness. It is to the united activity of these two elements – the individual and the unknown super-individual – that we must look for an intelligible explanation of the existence and structure of the experienced world. Thus although we started with sense-impressions as our first view of what is real in the experienced world, we are compelled to conclude with a superindividual mental factor as our final view of what is real in it.

In the first volume it was no more than hinted that the uninhabited early world must have been as much an object of consciousness to some mind as is the inhabited world of to-day. The moment has come to step across this gap in explanation. The statement in the eleventh chapter of that volume must be expanded to lead the reader Lip to the higher position which will now be unveiled.

It has been found that our sense-impressions do not arise from a separate and external material world. They must therefore arise from a creative power of our own minds which functions independently of our intentions and above our conscious self. But although we know that our own minds do play a subconscious part in the making of experience as in their drawing upon the capital of previous experience, we cannot squeeze the birth of things solely into our limited finite minds, do what we may; no human being is personally and voluntarily responsible for the world around him. And yet we are faced by the proven fact that these things and this world are nothing other than thought structures and their beginnings must be the product of some mind. There must be an unknown cause for the constant succession of thought forms which are presented to us for experience. This cause exists and must be accounted for. The thought-forms which enter individual consciousness must therefore be the mental correlate of a super-individual mind, which possesses the power both to form them and to impose them on the individual mind.

Why then should they not arise in a mind more unlimited than ours and to which even now we unwittingly belong? Why should we limit mental possibility to the little circle of one man’s experience? Why should we not conceive of the whole of things, selves and the world as being originally thought into being by a super-human mind which exists in intimate relation with our own. For we have no right to insist on making the world an object of consciousness only to a being possessed or the five senses, that is to say, only to a human or animal being. This would be an anthropomorphism of experience, an illegitimate setting up of a limited experience as being the highest possible form of all experience.

Existence cannot be limited merely to what is given in human sensations, to pictures of what is presented to the five sense organs only. It is an error to limit existence to being a mere content of the limited human consciousness. Even a little investigation shows how absurdly limited this consciousness is for it cannot even see the millions of beings inferior to man in the form of microbes which fill the air. That a being superior to man may have a place in this varied universe, must lie granted by the intelligent. Man cannot be the last word in Nature.

The universe is in a sorry state indeed if it has nothing better than the present form of human consciousness to show for all its endless travail, all its sharp pains. It is unreasonable to believe that when there are a myriad different forms of life in the universe below man in the scale of evolution, there cannot also be some other forms above him, nay that there cannot also be some ultimate form of supreme intelligence which takes a cosmic view of things? It would then be impertinent indeed to foist on such a superior intelligence only the senses developed by man’s partial experience, when it could become world-conscious in its own larger way.

It must be a universally diffused mind or it could not carry the consciousness of the myriad things and beings in the world. It must be a primal, permanent and self-subsistent one or it could not take in all the changes and vicissitudes incessantly occurring within the continuous duration of the world. It must always be linked with the universe or it could not be an observer of the universe. It is such a boundless mind which would be the necessary observer of an uninhabited world or an unvisited scene. And not merely on the basis of right reasoning alone but on the basis of ultra-mystic insight also, the hidden teaching affirms the existence of such a supreme Mind.

We are not merely the self-absorbed witnesses of our own impressions but also the co-sharers of a common experience. Despite the relativity of detail in all observations made in time or space, a hill is not a hill to one person and a river to another. Its general identity as a hill is a fact for all observers. The sensations of millions of men are connected and at least superficially alike for the same physical universe presents itself to all. This connection indicates that they have a common ground. The fact that similar perceptions of the external world exist for others as for ourselves shows that we are all bedded in one and the same constantly perceiving permanent Super-Mind.

A landscape present during wakefulness and also during dream will in both cases appear externally in space. But whereas the first one will be seen at the same time by all other creatures possessed of eyes who happen to be there, the second one will be seen by ourself alone. For the first scene originates independently of our personal thinking whereas the second arises out of our personal thinking alone. This difference is as important as is the similarity that both landscapes are purely mental. It exists because we all live in a universe of ideas and because the first landscape does not cease to exist for its original thinker, the all-inclusive cosmic mind.

The same answer will fit the further objection that the world’s existence does not depend on our voluntary thinking, is not the personally willed product of each isolated and individual mind, but is forced upon the individual’s senses, whether it please him or not. Even those who can understand that mind is both actor and spectator in this universal drama of lights, colours, sounds, smells and feels; who can comprehend that the very act of thinking is a creative one inasmuch as it manufactures its own time and space; who can appreciate that the cosmos in its entirety is but a thought form and that nothing can come into human experience which does not come as thought, cannot understand how when they have no deliberate intention of creating a world, their thinking can do so and yet remain wholly unaware of the inner workings of the process when it is taking place. The world-image floes not come into existence at their arbitrary will; it is something given to them. They experience it within themselves alright but they know they do not originate it.

The doctrine of a cosmic thinker, working’ subconsciously behind the individual mind in a manner shortly to be explained will fill this gap in their understanding. They must here recognize the working of another Mind upon their own. If the individual and his space-time world are indissolubly joined; if it is the individual’s consciousness which by its very nature includes world; and if therefore consciousness is the reality of both; this is because both are but manifestations of a third thing which itself transcends them and which must therefore be a higher form of consciousness. If the similarity of sensations has to be accounted for, this arises because the higher consciousness which stimulates all individual minds into the activity of sense-perception is one and the same thing – a common universal blind.

The world which spreads itself out before our gaze is thus an intimation of the presence of an omnipresent Mind which imprints it on our senses from within. Every object is therefore not only an idea in an individual mind but also in the universal one. For the latter is not an arbitrary creator nor something separate from and independent of the individual. Both contribute to the making of the individual’s world. How all this happens and the psychological process whereby the individual mind receives these ideas is described in the following chapter.

How is it that the world continues to exist during the many intervals, such as sleep, when it has become non-existent in the sensations of many individuals? How does the furniture in a closed room continue to exist when there is no perceiving person inside the room itself? How indeed did the whole cosmos exist before it existed in the sensations of living creatures and how will such sentience continue after all these creatures have perished? The only possible answer to all these questions is that we must recognize a relation not only between the world and the individual but also between the world and a universal mind. Further, we must recognize that the mental operations of all men are in the end related to each other and this is why they all see the same world in the same space-time order.

What is this relation? It is nothing less than their own multiple existence in a single larger Mind as thousands of cells exist in a single larger body. That which determines one man’s world experience from within himself also determines another man’s. There is indeed a hidden unity enclosing all human minds as a larger circle encloses many smaller concentric ones. Hence if an unvisited Polar region is unknown and unthought by anyone else, it is at least known and thought by the universal Mind. Its primal existence is not conferred by human but by divine thought. A I thing is not solely an idea in an individual consciousness even though it is this consciousness’ own idea. Therefore the mentalist need not deny the existence of all these things which have not at any particular moment entered his field of experience.

What shall we call this supreme Mind? Such a nebulous term as God must first be defined before it can properly be used. But it has already acquired so many different meanings in so many different intellects that a definition which will be satisfactory to all is difficult, perhaps impossible to find. Therefore we are justified in using a self-explanatory term. And such a term – the World-Mind will henceforth be used throughout this book to indicate this universal Intelligence. Put into poetical language, the World-Mind is the Soul of Nature.

Can Things Be Thoughts?

But experience takes a twofold form. There are not only the things which are presented to our attention by surrounding environment but also the thoughts which we present to ourselves introspectively. How can the external world, which is so obviously the same for all of us, be placed on a level with the internal world of our personal and arbitrary fancies? How can its rigid and unyielding form, which is relatively at rest and stable, be equated with the plastic inward world of thinking, which is pulsating in flux? Things are in a state of fixity but the thoughts about them constantly change. The Content/images and ideas appear or vanish more or less according to our will and yield themselves to our desires, whereas the sense-impressions are more or less unaffected by our will or wish. Moreover the physical world forces itself upon us independently of our control whereas the imaginations about it are subject to our control. How is it possible to bring into one and the same category an idea lice that of a memory of a tree, which represents the inner process of knowing about a tree, and the actual tree itself? Nobody finds that both the Content/images of individual fancy and the objects of bodily experience are the same in his experience but everybody does feel a strongly- marked difference between them.

This is perhaps one of the bulkiest stumbling-blocks in the path of most students of this doctrine. It is indeed this striking contrast which forces mankind to assume that the surrounding objects which make up its earthly environment are substantial and real whereas it assumes that thoughts, ideas, memories, and mental pictures are comparatively unsubstantial and unreal. How then can they be one and the same in substance?

The answer is that this distinction is certainly a genuine one but it is only of degree and not of kind; it is a distinction without a difference; it does not destroy the essentially mental character of the world outside. What is usually called a thing is a creation, as will be shown later, primarily of the cosmic mind. What is usually called a thought is the creation solely of the human mind. But ideas differ in the force, the intensity and the vividness with which they arise in consciousness. Nevertheless they remain ideas. Although only mentalists accept the objects of physical experience as mental states, everybody without demur accepts the thoughts about them as such. Now thoughts arise solely for the individual who has them whereas things exist for all alike. This is the second important distinction between them.

Why is there such obvious difference between the two categories of experience if both are really mental in character? Why do we seem to be so certain and definite about our experience of things? The answer is that we experience the one under a different set of conditions from the other, although both sets are purely mental. The difference between material things and thoughts like recollected memories is exactly like the difference between the experiences of wakefulness and those of dream, that is the former are common to all but the latter are quite private. The strength with which a sense- impression forces itself upon us lies in its cosmic origin, the weakness with which a fancy arises within us lies in its human origin. Thus, anyone can reconstruct physical sensations by using memory Content/images, but the reconstructed sensations lack the sharpness, strength and actuality of the original ones.

Ordinarily we do not grasp the fact that we are here dealing with a difference only in the quality of our awareness but make the mistake of believing it to be a complete difference in kind. It arises not only because of the cosmic origin of our environment but also because the mind is sharply and continuously focussed when outward-turned but only vaguely and fitfully focussed when inward- turned. The consequence of the first activity is external physical experience and of the second, internal imaginative experience, but they are both of the same ultimate mental tissue. Hence at certain moments of heightened intensity even the thought-forms of the second group take on all the compelling actuality of the first one. Such moments are experienced by a lover separated from his beloved, by the poet painter and novelist at the high points of their creative moods and by the advanced mastic sunk in deep devoted contemplation on his ideal saint. We need not deny that external things seem quite different from internal thoughts but we must emphatically deny that – however heavy, however solid they may be – they can possibly exist outside the mind’s own experience. The comparative weakness of private fancies, the comparative strength of sense-impressions, and the undeniable difference in sharpness, actuality and immediacy between these two classes of thought, deceive us into non-recognition of their concealed sameness, of the fundamental oneness of stuff out of which they are wrought. This will also explain why the mind should split its activity in such a manner that one type of experience is public whereas the other is private and peculiar to personal outlook, character and feeling. The World-Mind possesses the power to send forth its imaginations, to project its thought constructions and to fill its own seeming void with countless thoughts of things in such a way that they are apprehended by all mankind. Each individual spontaneously receives these ideas through his own mental operations. The stubborn persistence of the world-idea, the similarity of the total impression which it makes on countless minds, the sense-felt vividness and concreteness of it, are really powerfully and mesmerically imposed upon us. Our thoughts and fancies about it are relatively feebler and fainter efforts. It is held to our gaze and experience by the World-Mind’s thinking as though it were stable and fixed and reflected accordingly into our individual minds. We write ‘as though, advisedly because even this stability and fixity of the external world exist only according to our own present time standards. What is fixed for a million years by the reckoning of our finite mind can easily be equated in World- Mind’s thinking to a single second! For time is a purely relative affair.

All such questions will however answer themselves as the present exposition unfolds. They arise in the minds of people who have consciously or unconsciously by setting up the existence of matter as an entity by itself. They have in very fact imagined the materiality of the world through taking it for granted, and are consequently the victims of what they have themselves created. For life has planted them in a universe of thoughts whereas they have taken it to be a universe of matter!

What then is the essential difference between the idea of a remembered episode which arises voluntarily in the mind and soon vanishes and the idea of a lofty mountain which arises involuntarily in the mind and persists throughout many human lifetimes? Both ideas are inevitably and ultimately ephemeral, although the first may endure for a few moments and the second for a few hundred thousand years. The felt distinction between both blinds us to the fact that not only is the act by which an object is known mental, but the object itself is mental too. Whatever we perceive outside us is certainly outside the body and in the place where we perceive it. But as the body, the thing seen and the space in which both exist are themselves proven fabrications of the mind, the ultimate view can only be that the whole thing is an appearance in consciousness.

We know only our mental states, although some of them appear as ‘things’. We see only our mental Content/images, although some of them appear to be outside. The man of the world receives a shock, which produces laughter in most cases but terror in a few, when he is told that if he stands aside in detachment from his experience, then all the pageant of moving creatures, all the long lines of streets and houses which environ him become only forms taken by his mind. For he believes this to contradict every moment of his experience and to conflict with his most cherished notions. Hence he refuses to turn an intellectual somersault but immediately scorns such obvious nonsense. The doctrine of the ‘mentalness’ of everything seems indeed at first sight to involve such a reversal of his natural ways of thought as to be assuredly an absurd one.

He has indeed to undo the work of vast periods of time, of prolonged evolutionary epochs covering countless rebirths, when the need of coping with external environment reigned imperiously above the need of inward reflection about that environment and about himself. Thus arose the habit of looking outward through the five senses alone, of taking matter to be a real entity instead of taking it to be a thought, of misunderstanding his own experience and being finally incredulous of the fact that it is only a form of consciousness.

But why should the common-sense criterion of absurdity be regarded as the final and conclusive one? It is the irony of human ignorance that those who loudly assert the mentalist to be deluded, are themselves steeped in delusion! For the essence of their error consists in believing that when the mentalist denies the existence of matter he also denies the existence of things and people or else turns them into mere spectral ghosts of their former selves. On the contrary, he says that they are certainly there. And he admits that they are present not within our heads but outside them. Only, he points out, they are mentally made. He does not deny the existence of solids liquids and gases. Only, he remarks, they are mental existences. He accepts the feeling of resistance and the touch of pressure as indicating the presence of a solid body but declares that these feelings are really sensations of the mind itself.

Just as a single seed may, as it grows and matures, show itself in a variety of ways as stem, leaf, flower and fruit, all of which are so different in our experience, so the mind shows itself too in a variety of ways as substantial, fanciful, earthy, watery and gaseous, which are admittedly different but our experiences of them are still no less mental in origin. Just as the senses of sight touch and taste tell us that fluid milk, soft butter, congealed cheese and solid bakelite seem wholly different from each other whereas reason tells us that they are only four successive forms of one and the same essential substance, so the senses yield us many different kinds of experience but reason tells us that they are only experiences of one consciousness, not of different kinds of matter. Mind is like the one soil out of which all the different grasses plants trees vegetables fruits and cereals grow. Everything we see is generated by mind, however varied its appearances may be.

Thus we may firmly grasp this bleat fact that the world is externalized in and by the mind. All the differences between the various elements such as water earth and air do not invalidate it because they are really differences in mental experience. Mind may wear a thousand disguises as widely different as stone and gas but we must pierce through all to the hidden actor itself. Both stone and gas exist only through and for our mind.

Nor does the mentalist deny the existence of all those things like electrons and protons which science uses to explain the world-stuff but he says that they too are ultimately ideas. His typewriter does not change its nature as an item in his experience merely because he has come to apprehend that in the end it is a thought-form. It remains what it always has been and he continues to tap its keys as before. He knows that his experience of the world, which includes his experiences of its tangibility, even though they are not the direct products of his own consciousness, are nevertheless the variations of it. He knows too that the events which occur within that experience do not happen to him from outside but rather from within his field of awareness.

It would be a gross error therefore to mistake mentalism as committing itself to the doctrine of the world’s non-existence. The mere affirmation that the world is a form of thought definitely implies that as thought – but not as an independent material entity – it must certainly exist. The student must fully and clearly understand that when it is said that matter as such is meaningless and non-existent, we do not also say that the form of experience which passes itself off as external is meaningless and non-existent.

He who can appreciate the truth of these statements will also appreciate their astonishing consequences. Anybody who believes that the innumerable forms of the material world and the countless phases of existence are ultimately more than mental ones, believes in materialism, even if he has read the New Testament, the Bhagavad Gita and all the ancient and modern mystics. The well-known Indian doctrine of ‘maya,’ when stripped of the thick growth of exuberant mystification which entwines it, simply means that matter is an illusion of the mind.

In what, finally, has the mentalist’s progress consisted? Not in moving from a lower reality to a higher one, but in moving from a lower concept of reality to a higher one; that is, from matter to consciousness itself. Yet the critic would foolishly tear out of existence this one thing which alone makes that existence seem real, this one principle which experience, rightly understood, presupposes!

We may deal with the admittedly hard problem of world existence in two ways; we may either shelve it or solve it. The materialistic theory pushes it behind an unknown and unknowable ‘matter’ and thus merely shelves it, whereas the mentalistic theory actually solves it. Remove thought and you remove things; annihilate mind and you annihilate matter.

When a man first hears of mentalism he is opposed to it partly because of its paradoxical unfamiliarity and partly because of his own deep-rooted prejudice in favour of materialism. He does not like this doctrine of mentalism because it rocks his sense of reality like an earthquake. When however he has studied it a little this prejudice begins to wither away and he becomes reconciled to the idea as a possibility. When he has studied it thoroughly and experienced the mentalness of the world in yoga contemplation or in moments of heavy bereavement, the incontestable grandeur of this liberating doctrine takes entire possession of his heart and mind. Even he who holds or puts forward materialism, who says: “This is the universe as I define and observe it,” thereby interprets the universe and merely holds or puts forward his idea of it. Could he but comprehend what he is doing, he would comprehend that he is giving his assent to mentalism. He is indeed, however much the fact be disguised from his own self, a mentalist who has not yet risen to the level of reflective self-awareness!

The outstanding consideration for all mentalists to-day is that science has taken the first step towards the discovery of this truth. Distinguished men like Jeans and Eddington have given a mentalist momentum to scientific thinking and consequently deserve our high praise. This is so and must be so because the human mind cannot rest in materialism. It will he led by its own necessary evolution through successive stages to the truth of mentalism and thence to the majestic finality of what is ultimately real. Whatever science has been in the past, whatever it is in the present, the affirmation may be unhesitatingly made that it will be nothing less than mentalistic in the end. It will be driven to endorse out of its own practical wisdom what an Asiatic sage wrote thousands of years ago out of his immediate insight in the Maitri Upanishad: “The world is just one’s thought!”

Paul Brunton: The Wisdom of the Overself (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1969).

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Video: Brunton with Ramana Maharshi and Paramahansa Yogananda

Essay cited from this outstanding website.

 

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