From Ramchandra Gandhi’s I am Thou, Meditations on the Truth of India

 

“At the Root of Great and Small Evil”

 

I am rude to you in the queue for a bus because you, an old man, are not moving fast enough; I am quite avoidably rude to you, I am a reasonably civilized human being and know and believe that such rudeness is wrong and bad and unbecoming of humanity. I insatiate it nevertheless. But logically there is more to my rudeness than the weakness of the flesh which fails all too often to be in alignment with the knowledge of its own spirit. In being rude to you I wordlessly yet loudly proclaim to the world both present and absent that one may be rude to another in my situation, that one—anyone—is permitted such rudeness. All free action, i.e., action not done under duress, is a proclamation of its permittedness, legitimacy, whatever retrospectively may be our reservations and regrets about it, for no man is under a law of freedom apart from all men. Thus in being rude to you I say, without words, not only to onlookers but to all mankind—past, present and future mankind—that one may be rude in the way I am, that you may also be rude in the same way.  So loud is this wordless permission that given, as the case in question assumes, my own belief in the wrongness of my rudeness, the following becomes the illogical testament of my wrongdoing: “I ought not to be rude to you in the given situation, but one is permitted such rudeness.” The example I have chosen is an instance of mild moral evil with which we have all learned helplessly to live, but its self-contradiction is no less a stultification than the self-contradiction involved in genocide committed by a civilized nation or people, for in the latter case there is no more illogicality than that of believing something, e.g., genocide, to be wrong, and at the same time wordlessly implying its permittedness. In all moral evil, great and small, merely irritating or unimaginably devastating, there is self-contradiction. And yet the embarrassment of such self contradiction does not much deter moral evil. Are we rational animals?

Why do we do moral evil, why do we involve ourselves in wrong-doing, in badness and abandonment of duty and inhumanity and insensitivity to man and life and nature? It cannot be that the satisfactory general answer to this question is that we have unfulfilled desires for what worldliness has to offer us—name, fame, pleasures, sex, success, security, etc.–, the pain of unfulfillment driving us to wrongdoing, initially as well as vengefully. Such an answer despite its prevalence and prestige is superficial and false because great and small immorality is committed often by the most materialistically fortunate human beings who have no want of worldly gifts and goods. The satisfactory deep-going answer to the question as to why we do evil must be: we are not happy even with our happiness, there is not in our samsaric situatedness within and without ourselves any point of absolute rest and peace and uncheatable fulfillment. We are not joyously self situated in wisdom, we are not atmarama, sthithaprajna, samadhistha, we are ceaselessly running out of the centre of ourselves, tormented by instability. Unawareness of an atmarama centre of our being, the centre also of all beings, is the source of our immorality and its self-contradiction, the source of our doing and impliedly in our doing proclaiming as permitted what we know or believe is not.

But could atmarama self-consciousness be fantasy, a chimerical unattainability? If so, then human musery and wrongdoing great and small, provocative or protesting retaliatory, are without causality and explanation and thus without the hope of rational remedy. But these are so often entirely rationally rooted out, their very possibility annulled in spiritual seeking, especially of the jnana marge: and indeed logically only one instance, e.g. of Sri Ramana Maharshi, in whose brahmajnana are permanently destroyed all possibility of misery and evil, suffices to disprove the despairing theory of the incurability of unhappiness and immorality and demonstrates the reality of the joyously self-situated eternal heart of self-consciousness.

 

What is it like to be God?

 

Theistic faith must establish itself securely in our hearts and intellects before we can advance towards advaita which fulfils and does not deny or diminish or destroy theistic faith. We make our first move towards advaita beyond and behind theism when we ask the following questions:

  1. What is it like to be God?
  2. Can I become God?

There should be no hesitation on our part in conceding the prima facie general legitimacy of the first question. It is the manifestation, perhaps the most ambitious manifestation, of curiosity, and therefore can invoke the deepest Greek authority. Likewise, barring those who regard as sinful all human aspiration to divinity, the rest of us ought not at all to be dismissive, morally or logically, of the second question, which is the manifestation, indeed the most ambitious manifestation, indeed the most ambitious manifestation, of the human thrust towards perfection and can invoke continuing Hindu authority, which as Bharatiya authority is at the base at least also of Buddhism and Jainism. And yet consider some conceptual difficulties in the way of grasping and asking these questions.

I cannot, it would appear, ask the question: “What is it like to be X?” if I cannot be X, i.e. if I logically cannot gain the most intimate access to what being X is, namely, identity with X. Thus on a dualistic view of selfhood, I cannot ask the question: “What is it like to be you?” because I can never be you. I could at the most ask and expect to discover answers to such questions as “What is it like to be old?” “What is it like to be rich?”, “What is it like to be an orphan?” because I too can be old or rich or an orphan and know intimately, or learn from you, who are old or rich, etc., what it is like to be old or rich, etc. But I cannot ask what it is like to be you or anybody else. Now on a dualistic view of ourselves not only is every jivatman wholly other than every other jivatman, all jivatmans are other than paramatman, God or Isvara, and thus quite apart from alleged moral difficulties inherent in the question “What is it like to be God?”, the question is logically impossible to answer and therefore ought not to be asked. But if we are to respect the authority of that question, trusting the authority of curiosity, and save it from the charge of unanswerability and unaskability, we must swiftly conclude that I must be God essentially, we must all be God essentially, for otherwise the question: “What is it like to be God?” must indeed be answerable and unaskable.

Likewise, can I ask or hope to answer intelligibly the question: “Can I become God?” if I were not already God but had forgotten tragically that I was Him? On any other assumption, becoming God would be a very hazardous enterprise and ambition, the process of becoming being entirely at the most contingent and reversible and comical, to say the least. We may of course panic at the prospect of realizing our divinity and so be prompted and bullied into thinking that question “Can I become God?” is morally and logically illegitimate. But if we would respect the Hindu or Bharatiya authority of that question, we must courageously conclude that we are not essentially other than God. Non-dualistically, however, our “becoming” God would have to be interpreted as our becoming aware, merely, of our eternal Godhood, as the revelation of our essential divinity.

It might be argued that on the advaitin view the question “What is it like to be God?” is identical with the question “What is it like to be myself?” and that this question cannot be answered because I cannot become other than myself in order to have an understanding by contrast, as it were, of what it is like to be myself. There is force in the form of this argument but it can be met. For I can without ceasing to be myself, without becoming other than myself, become profoundly self-forgetful even to the point of becoming virtually unconscious as in deep sleep. Also dreaming is proof of my capacity for distorting self-forgetfulness. Thus it can be argued that my self-consciousness and self-knowledge are nourished by a constant returning to this wakeful state from the contrasting states of self-forgetful distorting dreaming and deep sleep.

Thus there is no logical difficulty in asking the question: “What is it like to be God?” from the advaitin standpoint, because there is no logical difficulty in asking the question “What is it like to be myself?” Indeed one can now grasp with conviction the advaitin doctrine of Atman-Brahman’s power of Maya. Atman-Brahman, One and Self of all and each, would be lacking in self-consciousness and self-knowledge if it did not become self-forgetful as in the distorting and apparently separative conditions of samsara and virtually unconscious as in the apparent non-subjectivity or nothingness of matter. The return of the jives and samsara itself to their source, Atman-Brahman, is what enables Atman-Brahman to be self-conscious, is what constitutes its self-knowledge. The necessity of creation, sustenance, and dissolution is expressive of divine self-knowledge. Brahma, Visnu, and Siva are three forms that in dynamic togetherness constitute the eternal self knowledge of That One, tadekam. Whether the creative activity of Atman-Brahman must necessarily always invite the deludedness of jives and samsara, and the consequent misery of separative existence, or whether a mode of becoming apparently many is possible to Atman-Brahman which would yield infinitely many centres of itself not separtively alienated form one another but playfully mutually interlinked in a cosmic whirl of rasalila is a question we can only grossly imperfectly answer without the image and grace and necessary reality of purnavatara Sri Krsna.

Sri Ramana Maharshi was asked by a man who thought that the Master did not believe in the reality of the world or God the following question: “We believe in the reality of the world and God, you don’t. Is that not right?” The Master gave the following devastating reply: “One the contrary you only give one-third reality to the world, one-third reality to yourself, one-third reality to God. We give full reality to all three, all are Self.”

These words of Sri Ramana ought for ever to end snipping at advaita and mayavada. The world as other than Atman-Brahman is indeed more insubstantial than a dream, the jiva as other than Atman-Brahman is a pathetic illusion of centredness and self-realising and self sufficient self consciousness. And God who is not the secret essence, self, of all that is, is a despot and not ultimate reality. Atman-Brahman as self and centre and substance and power of all that is, however hideous and undivine and unpromising the appearance of it, is that than which no greater can be conceived, and is the reality which St. Anselm’s marvelous argument would prove if that argument were rescued from the limitations of dualistic theology which it seeks to serve.

The hyphenated phrase Atman-Brahman draws attention to two dimensions of undeniability, the undeniability of the greatness, vastness, of that which by the very etymology of its name is the greatest conceivable reality, i.e. Brahman, and the undeniability of the reality of self consciousness, Atman, Atman-Brahman thus undeniability of the reality of greatness as the very heart, self, of all, God. It is strange irony of fate that a civilization centered round an inadequate notion of God, namely Western civilization, should produce the Anselmian argument, and Indian civilization which is powerfully centred around the most adequate notion of ultimate reality, Atman-Brahman, should be without its own explicit ontological argument. God seeks historical and geographical and civilizational self-knowledge in strange ways. This also puts civilizational pride in its place.  

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