Narayana Guru’s Unified Science of the Absolute

Sri Narayana Guru

“The world’s a puzzle; no need to make sense out of it.” — Socrates

ocrates was probably hinting at the inherent nature of Nature which is beyond the scope of articulation. Nature have always puzzled human intelligence and humanity always tried to solve the riddle either by a priori synthesis which is commonly known as oriental philosophy belonging to different cultures of the world and also what is seen in the modern age of enlightenment as the analytical a posteriori.

Whether religious thought seemed to be dogmatic and a closed obligatory system to the critics, or a source of solace or consolation from the pin pricks of the world by its believers, it has existed in and through a vast period of human history in various forms. There are striking similarities when it comes to ancient philosophies of the world, for example: when we examine the etymology of the word theory, The word ‘theory’ derives from the Greek ‘theorein’, which means ‘to look at’. Similarly, Philosophy in ancient India was called Darshana which also means to ‘to see’ or ‘to realize’.

Final fulfilment of philosophy occurs when it tackles the problem of death which have haunted human minds from time immemorial. General ideas whether of a life after or total freedom from the circle of birth and death (Nirvana) points at something which is beyond death. Scientists have successfully tried to tackle this problem with the blanket term ‘Nature’ and that after death the body will be absorbed back to its fundamental constituents and the hard problem of consciousness is something they are yet to fully understand.

The whole vision of the physical world, together with its subjective experience, which is not experimentally demonstrable, thus emerges into view as the legitimate and unified basis of enquiry containing domains of both physics and metaphysics. Physics is quantitative while metaphysics is qualitative. If physics is relative, metaphysics tends to look at the relative plurality in the light of something that is non-relative. When both are understood and treated unitively, so that the certitude contained in the one helps the certitude contained in the other, by mutual verification, we have the beginnings of a Science of the Absolute.

The Science of the Absolute can be also called a Science of sciences, a Unified science or an integrated body of knowledge. When such an enquiry is pushed further, so as to yield a common notion serving as a normative reference for all sciences, we then have a fully integrated Science of the Absolute. Science is faced with the problem of incertitude rather than certitude which it thought it was gaining. The inductivo-hypothetical approach to formulation of scientific laws or theories, based on calculations, yields at present varying pictures of the physical world. When scientific myth-making is becoming more a danger that we are exposed to and science being allowed to part company with common sense, man is confused both about what he should believe and what he should doubt. A normative or integrated notion of the Absolute can alone act as a regulative reference in this matter.

Unified science cannot recognize any frontiers. It must form an interrelated whole with a proper absolutist epistemology, methodology and axiology. It must also transcend the limitations of geographical, cultural and linguistic frontiers. The bane of compartmentalization and overspecialization of departments of knowledge is an impediment, rather than a guide, to a healthy and intelligent life. Varied units, standards, norms and frames of reference are presently being adopted at random by specialists in the various branches of science. Double and multiple standards also prevail sometimes within the same discipline. The Special, the General and the Unified Field Theories of modern relativity are examples of such a tendency.

Conceptualism and perceptualism ought to lend validity to each other without either one being given exclusive primacy. The a priori approach and the a posteriori approach often interlace promiscuously, making scientific literature sometimes resemble fable or even myth. A unified or normative Science, based on the notion of the Absolute, can alone serve as a regulative factor to affect orderly integration of all branches of human enquiry. An integrated Science of all sciences, implying both normalization of concepts and their renormalization with reference to the domain of percepts, has thus become in our time an imperative need.

Modern scientific investigations are revealing certain striking common features at once characterizing both the microcosmic and macrocosmic worlds. Cosmology and psychology thus are approaching each other, as it were, from opposite poles of the total knowledge-situation to which both belong. In such a process of the integration of perceptual and conceptual aspects, physics and metaphysics have their equal share of importance on neutral ground. Quantum mechanics relies on the same structure as is found in astronomy. Mathematics, logic and semantics are also revealing each day new parameters on the structural frontier, which tend to conform to each other as between disciplines previously considered to be different or distinct. In the philosophy of science, we have unconsciously begun a science of philosophy because of the common structural features that underlie both. Cybernetics and thermodynamics reveal structural features of a subtle subjective and selective order, all of which are capable of being treated together as constituting one startling development in modern scientific thought.

The polemical battles that have raged between those who stressed concepts at the expense of percepts and others who stressed the opposite have raised and are still raising in our own time clouds of controversy which contribute to fill libraries with more and more verbose books of vain speculation. There are those like A.J. Ayer who asserts that metaphysics is ‘nonsensical’ and without significance, and that humanity can live wholly with the help of empirical knowledge and propositions based on it. Such philosophers tend to expect the whole truth to emerge to view one day when what are called laboratory methods of science are more and more scientifically pushed forward. They expect to triumph finally in creating a philosophy which would retain what they would prefer to call its ‘scientific’ status. Such biased scientists may be seen not fundamentally different in their one-sidedness compared to those in a rival camp who belong to a context of the wisdom of the seminary.

When the nature of this apparent opposition is more closely examined and intuitively understood, we come to realize the truth common to both, and then it is that the legitimate claims of a possible Unified Science of the future will come more clearly into view. When Shakespeare said that one may call a rose by any name, yet it will still smell as sweet, he was putting his finger on the very tragic or paradoxical core of the total knowledge-situation while trying to overcome the contradiction.

Scientists are becoming more and more conscious of the limitations of empiricism, especially because quantum mechanics has dealt a death blow to their programmes. A theory of knowledge accommodating quantum mechanics and electromagnetics with time, space, gravitation and the principle of causality in the unified field of nature, or in the name of a continuum where space and time enter on equal footing, is in process of being discovered by modern scientific thinkers. When they become nearer to their objective it could be expected that they will be able to shed their long-standing prejudice against the a priori synthetic approach of philosophers like Kant. By insisting on only the a posteriori analytic, they will never be expected to resolve the paradox.

Theologians may be charged with being dogmatic a priorists who are ready to believe anything, even though wholly undemonstrable and thus unscientific in the usual sense. When a child is watching an elder play hide and seek with it, we could notice an alternating play of expectation and dismay, hope and despair, suggesting a tendency alternately to scepticism and a willingness to believe. If we should substitute philosophers and scientists in the place of the alternative realms of scepticism and belief possible to the child’s mind, we should get a picture of the same total scope and alternating movement at the core of the bipolar paradoxical total knowledge-situation which we have already tried to explain. Einstein is a good example of how mysticism itself is being included within the scope of science, as the following quotation shows:

“The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms — this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”

How does such a unified science of the Absolute tackle the fundamental problem of death? Sri Narayana Guru in his century of verses of Self-instruction, we read:

കരണവുമിന്ദ്രിയവും കളേബരം തൊ-
ട്ടറിയുമനേകജഗത്തുമോര്‍ക്കിലെല്ലാം
പരവെളിതന്നിലുയര്‍ന്ന ഭാനുമാന്‍ തന്‍
തിരുവുരുവാണു തിരഞ്ഞു തേറിടേണം.

വെളിയിലിരുന്നു വിവര്‍ത്തമിങ്ങു കാണും
വെളിമുതലായ വിഭൂതിയഞ്ചുമോര്‍ത്താല്‍
ജലനിധിതന്നിലുയര്‍ന്നിടും തരംഗാ-
വലിയതുപോലെയഭേദമാ‍യ് വരേണം.

Translation:

The inner organ, the senses, the body, the many worlds known by direct perception-everything, when contemplated, is the glorious embodiment of the sun that shines in the sky beyond; this should be known through relentless search.

Existing outside and, as specific modes, seen within, the fundamental elements, like sky, when contemplated, should become waves rising in rows, from the treasury of the watery deep, without any separate reality whatsoever.

The core wisdom contained in both of these verses is that of the Absolute, which he refers to as the Bhanuman — the sun of supernal glory in the void of consciousness and as the Jalanidhi — the oceanic depth of immeasurable value. Bhanuman, sun, is derived from the word bhan, which means shining or brilliant. Bhanam is a word that can mean both ‘light’ and ‘knowledge’. Here, the Guru calls our attention to the infinite, open, spaceless space in which there is no difference between the Absolute and the space in which it shines. It is a space that is spatialising, and not a space that is spatialised. The Guru wants us to know that we are emerging from the depth of the Absolute’s treasury of immeasurable value as a wave of its manifestation, only to fall and merge once again with the Absolute.

For the scientist, every atom is literally a challenge to probe and investigate. The fact remains that no one goes outside their mind to experience or prove anything other than what is conceptually produced within their own prodigious brain. Sir Arthur Eddington recognises this fact and agrees that the physicist is not studying any physical entity as such, but only what can be conceptualised as a rational entity. In Newtonian physics, the ultimate entities of matter were the autonomous and self-monitored atoms that were like loose grains of sand on a shore, just touching each other but getting no closer than that. Today, the picture given to us is very much more like half-melted salt crystals in a saturated saline liquid; a boundary line can no longer be drawn between one thing and another.

Fritjof Capra says in The Tao of Physics:
“At the subatomic level, matter does not exist with certainty at definite places, but rather shows ‘tendency to exist’, and atomic events do not occur with certainty at definite times and in definite ways, but rather show ‘tendencies to occur’. In the formalism of quantum theory, these tendencies are expressed as probabilities and are associated with mathematical quantities which take the form of waves. This is why particles can be waves at the same time. They are not ‘real’ three-dimensional waves like sound or water waves. They are ‘probability waves’, abstract mathematical quantities with all the characteristic properties of waves which are related to the probabilities of finding the particles at particular points in space and at particular times. All the laws of atomic physics are expressed in terms of these probabilities. We can never predict an atomic event with certainty; we can only say how likely it is to happen.”

This is not only true of the inner structure of matter, but also of the boundary between matter and consciousness. It is as if everything is in everything else. It is from such a unitive philosophy or unified view of science that Narayana Guru calls our attention to the adorable Absolute.

Every night we taste the joy of reemerging with the totality, at least for the little while we are in deep sleep. Joy is not the right word because in that state there is no pleasure or pain. The only quality is undisturbed peace. If sleep is peaceful, death should be a state of everlasting peace. The yogis have an alternative to death. The promise us an immortality which has the same quality as deep sleep, with one major difference. While sleep is retiring into the total inertia of matter, the yogi’s absorption is one of entering into the boundless realm of the spirit’s unmodified consciousness.

To see life as a series of waves rising up and merging back to the ocean of All fills one’s mind with beauty, peace and joy. If you do not know the world this way, then other people become symbols of threat or hostility. A unitive vision makes each of us the keeper of our brothers and sisters. There is no longer any boundary between the self and the other. Gleefully we jump and immerse ourselves in the oceanic treasury of wonder.

Thus, there are two paths, the world of physical awareness which is haunted by death or change and the world of spiritual absorption. If we are not in one, we are in the other. It is both beautiful to live and beautiful to die. This state of absorption (which is called ‘Turiya’ or ‘The Fourth’) is indicated in the Mandukya Upanishad, we read:

“The fourth is without an element, with which there can be no dealing, the cessation of development, benign, without a second. Thus, OM is the Self (Atman) indeed. He who knows this, with his self enters the Self, yea, he who knows this!”

Commenting on this mantra, Gaudapada (the author of Karika) says:

“The knower of Brahman (Absolute), who has realised the highest truth, has entered into the Self by burning away the third state of latency; and hence he is not born again since Turiya has no latency (of creation)”

This idea of immortality is also seen in the largest of Upanishads called the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, we read:

“Immortality is becoming fearless.

The Absolute is fearless.

He who knows it as such

Certainly, becomes the fearless Absolute.”