In this post, I am going to address a very important topic. Because there is a certain misunderstanding that exists among the spiritual seekers when it comes to logic and reasoning. Many blind followers of certain cults accept whatever nonsense that is said by their leader as the truth; They do not want to use their reason for any reason at all. So, I am going to address the following question in detail: What is the place for logic and reasoning in spiritual path?
Is it completely absurd to use your nature-given reasoning when it comes anything uttered by your so-called Guru who has a long beard and claims to be enlightened?
Everything has a place and use in life and also has its limitations. You cannot use your eyes to pick up things and you cannot use your hands to watch a movie! Anybody who is even debating if the hands are better than eyes or vice versa is being completely childish and immature.
So, why do certain Gurus keep saying that you cannot use logic to figure things out on the spiritual path? Because it is true in certain situations but not applicable to every nonsense you hear. Here are some reasons why reasoning alone will not help:
- Lack of premise
For any logical conclusion, you need a premise. For example, consider the following statements:
- There is smoke coming out of that house.
- Therefore, there is possibly a fire burning inside the house.
Statement #1 is the observation. Statement #2 is the logical conclusion you came up with based on the observation. But what premise is this conclusion based on? The premise is, “If there is smoke, there must be fire”.
So, the following two things have to be kept in mind:
- Without necessary premises, you may be missing the knowledge of something important. Without that knowledge, your conclusions could be wrong. If you think that smoke doesn’t need fire to exist, then you will not be able to infer that there is a fire in the house (after seeing the smoke).
- If the premise is wrong, your conclusions will be wrong. This is bound to happen even if your explanation is completely logical.
If you are not spiritually enlightened or self-realized yourself, you will misunderstand the behavior of an enlightened person. Because you will be interpreting his behavior while assuming that he is still functioning in duality or with a separate sense of self. You cannot understand how it feels like to function without a sense of separation when you yourself are bound by separation and duality. Why so? Because an important premise is missing here; only spiritual enlightenment can give that premise because the premise is not something intellectual; it is experiential. Read this for more info: Is Spiritual Enlightenment Known or Experienced?.
Only when you live as a liberated person, you understand how an enlightened person perceives the reality. This understanding is the premise you need to logically talk about that unaltered, unclouded, impersonal, unified, authentic non-dual experience of reality that lacks a sense of separation, sense of psychological time, sense of psychological lack and a self concept . Here, the problem is not with logic itself; the problem is just the absence of premise. You need to first work on getting to know the necessary premise before you can meaningfully and accurately talk about it.
Let me give you an example to make it even clear. A stomach pain is experiential. But you can logically talk about stomach pain to another person because you have experienced stomach pain and the listener has also experienced it. If you have not experienced stomach pain before, you lack the necessary premise to talk about it. Read this for more clarity: Why Is Spiritual Enlightenment Indescribable?.
2. You cannot think your way to enlightenment
When it comes to spirituality, the means to liberation involves meditation. Meditation is of two-fold: 1) Practices that are designed to develop concentration, discrimination between the witness and the witnessed, non-attachment etc. They make you completely prepared. 2) Insight-oriented practices which are called by many names such as mindfulness, self-inquiry etc which is a non-doing, inquiry and observation based meditation.
So, just thinking about enlightenment or analyzing a verbal testimony that attempts to describe non-duality will not clear any of your doubts. If you come to conclusions about the nature of non-duality only based on thinking alone, it will be wrong. Because, as we saw already, you are missing out on an important premise.
3. The spiritual practice is not about anything objective.
Here, by the word objective, I am talking about anything that can be observed with your awareness: the shape and color of the dog, the smell of bullshit, a thought, a feeling, a physical sensation etc.
In spiritual practice, our main interest is not on anything that is objective. You are supposed to first realize that there is a self-evident, attribute-less, pure conscious experience of reality in which everything that is observed has an ontological existence. And this is the pure subject. As for as your experience is concerned, it is like a screen of pure conscious experience where the world along with matter, time, space, movement, non-movement etc happens. In the Jain philosophy, the witness, along with matter, time, space, movement and non-movement are called as dravyas. These six substances are considered as eternal. But this is not contradictory to the two fold truth of Purusha and Prakriti. The five substances apart from the witness are nothing but the further enumeration of Prakriti. The movement and non-movement already represents rajas and tamas respectively. Jain philosophy eliminated sattva because it is just a balance of rajas or tamas. Instead it added time, space and matter. These differences are not a problem since they are just working models which are used in spiritual practice. In fact, instead of 6 dravyas, one can try coming up with more numbers. This is how 24 tattvas in Samkhya, 36 tattvas in Kashmiri Shaivism, 6 koshas in Vedanta and 5 aggregates in Buddhism are defined. They are just enumeration of basic units of one’s conscious experience. I have explained more about it here: The Truth About Yantras, Chakras, Temples, Tantra and Agamas.
In Sanskrit, this witness is called as Atman. There is another meaning for Atman which is spirit. But in many spiritual traditions, people did not use that word to mean ‘spirit’ at all. In fact, the actual meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘Atman’ is ‘Self’. The sentence ‘he saw himself in the mirror’ is translated as ‘sah darpane Atmanam pasyati’ in Sanskrit. Here, Atman is declined in objective class as ‘Atmanam’. But this word is translated as ‘soul’ in English, which actually gives a wrong meaning. Because, soul in English is always associated with a spirit or some invisible entity that lives in the body. But in Jain philosophy, Atman is just a witness.
“That which is the soul is that which knows, that which is the knower is the soul, that by which one knows is the soul”
– Acharanga sutta – 171 (A Jain text of 5th-4th century BCE compiled based on the teachings of Mahavira.
Here in 6 dravyas of Jain philosophy, the witness is the subject and the five other substances are objects. When you are thinking about something, your thought is certainly dealing with something that is objective. Even if you think about absolute reality, it is still objective because you are only dealing with a concept that is imagined or cognized in your mind. Above all, the thought process which is employed here is also objective because you can observe it.
Spiritual practices like self-inquiry require being a passive witness to everything that is objective; When you do that, you don’t identify yourself with the thinker but see the thought process as separate from the space of pure awareness in which everything is happening.
Here, your intellect actually plays an important role in helping you discriminate between the witness and the witnessed. But the practice of witnessing or self-inquiry itself doesn’t require a contemplative thought process or a series of logical steps. It just requires a choiceless awareness of your mental processes. So, an obsession with thinking or analysis will make you miss the point and stop you from doing meditation at all.
Anekantavada and Seven Valued Logic In Jainism:
Have you heard contradictory statements in the context of spiritual enlightenment similar to the following?:
- a) There is free will; b)There is no free will
- a) You cannot do anything to be enlightened; b)You have to do many things to be enlightened.
- a) You are already enlightened; b) You are not enlightened.
- a) There is self; b)There is no self.
How do you resolve these contradictory statements? What if I told you that both a) and b) are true in each case? In a way or in some sense, both are true.
I will explain it completely. Before that, take a look at this infographic:
Blindmen and the Elephant:
“A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it.
In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said: “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said, “elephant is a wall”. Another who felt its tail described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.”
This story is a very famous one and present in almost all the spiritual traditions. Now, the question is, is the elephant’s tail same as the elephant itself? In some sense, they are the same and in some sense, they are not. Each part of an elephant is a distinct feature and points to one specific aspect of an elephant. Jain tradition calls it ‘Naya’. A naya is a partial presentation of the nature of the object and is relative. But ‘Pramana’ is a comprehensive presentation of an object and it is absolute. Here, the elephant is the pramana and its leg is a naya.
Let us say you are looking at a real elephant right now. Is the elephant that you see this moment the same as the elephant you see the next moment? In some sense, yes but in some sense, no. In a practical sense, it is the same elephant that you have been staring at for the past few minutes. But in reality, the elephant which was present one second before and the elephant which is present now is not identical because some change has taken place there.
Does a self-exist? A solid, concrete self doesn’t exist when you look at it objectively. At any point in time, what you observe in your consciousness is an ever-changing phenomenon which includes thoughts, emotions, sensations etc. Each of them has an independent existence as they arise and pass away. The same occurs in the body. Your body 24 hours ago is not identical to your body right now, because, certain things have disappeared, certain things have appeared and certain things have changed locations in the body. So, whatever you call as self can only have momentary existence because the collection you refer to as ‘self’ doesn’t exist in the same form the next moment. But Self as the underlying pure awareness hasn’t changed even a bit. If you call this awareness as Self, it does have a continuous, unchanging existence.
So, Self as the substance or essence exists continuously as awareness. But self as a form only has a momentary existence. Because, the next moment, you have a slightly different form. Jain philosophy calls the substance as ‘dravya’ and the form as ‘paryaya’. So the correct answer to the question ‘Does a self-exist?’ would be this: In a way, self-exists; in a way, it doesn’t exist.
But the problem with such two-fold description is that it usually ends up getting misunderstood. This is very true when it comes to spirituality. The language cannot faithfully convey the true ontological nature of anything. So, in a way, it is also indescribable and this has to be conveyed along with the two-fold description, making it a three fold one.
With what we have seen, we can come up with three different premises which are equally true:
- In some sense, self exists.
- In some sense, self does not exist.
- In some sense, it is indescribable.
Apply the same to free will. Does free will exist?
Certainly, you aren’t a robot. At every moment, there appears to be a choice. So in a practical sense, free will does exist as it appears to exist for everyone. But does free will really exist?
Think about any action that you decided to do today. Did you have complete control over the decision you made? It appears so. Ask yourself, ‘Why did I do that?’. Today I went to a movie. Why did I do that? Because I felt bored. Why did I feel bored? Because the television was not working today in my home, due to some technical problem. Why was there such a technical problem?
When you inquire this way, in two or three steps, you will reach something that you had no control over. I did not have any control over my television set going bad.
If you think about it, you would see that you have no control over even what the next thought of yours is going to be. What you think the next moment is based on what your brain spots as a retrieval cue or something that needs to be reminded to you. If your boss scolded you harshly yesterday, you would be getting those thoughts many times today. This way, each and every reaction is tied to a previous cause or a co-related factor which has a previous cause. There are countless such interlinked cause and effect relationships in the universe which cannot be traced back to its origins. Because past means infinity.
Every decision you make has its roots in multiple factors that you had no control over in the first place. In fact, everything happens according to the natural laws that govern the universe. You can’t decide anything against the natural law; because your decision itself is controlled by nature.
People keep asking me if one becomes like an autopilot after enlightenment. What makes you think that you are not in auto-pilot right now? But talking about this is kind of tricky because people usually misunderstand it. Saying that you don’t have a free will gives a nihilistic view or a pessimistic view. But that comes from a misunderstanding. Because in some sense, you do have a free will.
With what we have seen, we can come up with three different premises about free will which are equally true:
- In some sense, free will exists.
- In some sense, free will does not exist.
- In some sense, it is indescribable.
Each of the above statement is a ‘naya’. It expresses partial truth but incomplete by itself. But the complete and comprehensive truth or Pramana cannot be put into words; it has to be seen or understood by yourself.
The concept of free will is tied to an idea of a separate, personal self. So, you get a complete picture of the nature of the free will only after enlightenment. Because enlightenment removes the sense of separation or duality from the equation.
With these two examples, we get the following basic format. (Replace anything with the word ‘that’:
- In some sense, that exists.
- In some sense, that doesn’t exist.
- In some sense, that is indescribable.
As I said, the above three statements are equally true and each of them convey the truth from one point of view only. So, each statement is incomplete by itself. But when we accept these three statements as true at the same time, then it is possible to come up with four more statements based on these three premises. Logically, all the seven statements should be true as they are based on these original three premises:
(1) In some sense, that exists. (syadasti).
(2) In some sense, that doesn’t exist (syatnasti ).
(3)In some sense, that exists and that doesn’t exist (syadasti nasti ca ).
(4) In some sense, that is indescribable (syadavaktavyah).
(5)In some sense, that exists and is indescribable (syadasti ca avaktavya sca ).
(6) In some sense, that doesn’t exist and is indescribable ( syatnasti ca avaktavyasca) .
(7) In some sense, it exists, it doesn’t exist and also indescribable (syadasti nasti ca avaktavyasca).
This sevenfold logic is called as Saptabhangi vada. The statements you see in the brackets are the Sanskrit translations. Notice that each sentence starts with ‘syad’. The word ‘syad’ generally means ‘maybe’ but in this context, it means ‘In a way’ or ‘In some sense’. That is why this doctrine is also called as syadvada.
The bottom line is that, when you don’t have the complete picture that gives you the absolute truth about anything, any verbal description of that would be only partial. So, multiple statements stated from different points of view are needed to even get the slightest hint of what the complete picture might be. Because of the requirement of such multiple statements, the doctrine is also called as ‘Anekanta vada’, which literally means ‘many-sidedness’.
When you hear contradictory teachings, this doctrine will remind you that it appears to be contradictory only because of the verbal expression. It is just an inadequacy of the language. So, rather than getting confused, this doctrine will remind you to work towards your liberation so that you can get the direct perception of the truth. Until you see the elephant, don’t insist that what you are holding is the complete truth about the elephant.
Experiencing the reality non-dualy and living a life without a sense of separation is something indescribable. If a person hasn’t gone through a spiritual transformation and has not gained knowledge of non-duality by experience, then he wouldn’t understand it by any amount of verbal communication.
He is missing an important premise that would allow him to logically analyze the non-dual experience of reality. Only self-realization can give him that premise. If he tries to capture the nature of non-dual reality without experiencing the reality that way, then his conclusions would be similar to the conclusions drawn by the blind men about the elephant.
A spiritual seeker is like a blind man, who is groping in the dark and trying to follow the rays of light that are sometimes visible, which may lead him to the ultimate liberation.
For such a blind spiritual seeker, spiritual teachings may seem contradictory to each other just like the conclusions of the blind men seemed contradictory to each other. But those contradictions seem to exist simply because of the lack of a complete picture. Once the person acquires the vision to see the elephant there won’t be any contradiction.
So, it must be understood that these seemingly contradictory descriptions of non-duality are given to compensate for the lack of the complete picture. Each one of them is true in some sense but each of those contradictory descriptions in isolation is incomplete by itself. It is similar to how saying that an elephant looks like a pillar is an incomplete description but true in some sense (as the leg of the elephant is like a pillar.) This doesn’t in any way mean that there are multiple truths.
I wrote this post for two reasons:
- Recently, I have been getting many questions which are all about how life and the experience of reality are going to be after spiritual enlightenment. Well, that is something that you have to see for yourself. Don’t try to grasp it with the mind, it won’t happen.
- When I write anything critical about some modern-day gurus regarding their misleading statements, I get a response from the guru’s followers saying that I am using logic to analyze those statements (as if it were a sin). Here is what I want to say to them:
a) Just because it is related to the spiritual path, that doesn’t mean that there is no room for reasoning at all. Using your reasoning is especially necessary when you are depending on a guru in someway, who has the potential to exploit you economically and psychologically. If a guru tries to convince you that doing a free labor for his organization or donating a huge fortune to them will somehow favor your spiritual growth, you need to certainly use your brain. Whatever I have explained above is not an excuse to be dumb and intellectually lazy. In fact, intellect plays a very important part in helping you to understand spiritual teachings and also to discriminate between the witness and the witnessed.
b) I do have the necessary premise to talk about non-duality because I am not living in duality anymore. So, I can very easily detect odd, misleading and nonsensical things said in the name of spirituality.
c) People need to understand the difference between something which is illogical and something which is beyond logic (something for which you don’t have the necessary premise).
Here is an example of something illogical:
1)all crows are black.
2)all crows are birds.
3)Therefore, all birds are black..
Now, if you try to make an 8-year-old boy understand about sexual pleasure, that is beyond his current level of understanding, simply because he has not experienced sexual pleasure. So, he cannot use logic to understand it until he experiences sexual attraction. (this is what I called beyond logic or to be more precise, beyond his current level of understanding).. Once he is 15 or 16 years old, he will understand. After this understanding, he can use logic to discuss it with other people who also know about it. Because he has a new premise now, based on his experience.