Causality in the events of the world

Question: There are ridiculous things in some of the ecstatic utterances of Mahatmas, which we have to assume are somehow metaphorical or maybe just poetic fancies. After a bit, they no longer make an impression; they get shifted onto a siding, well away from the main tracks of life. For instance, Swami Rama Tirtha (a one-time professor of mathematics at the university of Lahore who became a Mahatma in the high Himalayas) said: “Do not see causality in the events of the world. When you see causality you fall spiritually.”

Now what can this possibly mean? Without using causality, life would collapse. We put food over a fire to cook it: that is causality. We dress and wear shoes to protect ourselves: that is causality. Swami Rama’s maxim which he repeated many times in his various writings and lectures dwindles to some vague idea of a presiding deity who will make everything come right in the end. It cannot be a serious factor in one’s conduct.

Answer: Declarations like these, which as you say are repeated many times, must not be pushed aside as largely irrelevant. But it takes some concentration to bring them into focus. There are old analogies, but let us take a modern one, namely a factory.

If we examine how the factory runs by looking at the memos, telephone calls and computer messages we find a clear cause and effect relationship. Sales sends a message to Head Office to say that a particular line is doing unexpectedly well. Head Office enquires of Stock and Stock replies that it is running low. Head Office notifies Works to increase production by so much. Works duly delivers to Stock, and Stock to Sales. There is a clear sequence of cause and effect: the memo from Sales resulted in the question from Head Office to Stock whose reply caused the instruction from Head Office to Works and so on to the final delivery to Sales. On a flow chart it can be presented satisfactorily in just these terms of cause and effect by memo.

But that fact is that none of these messages actually causes anything. Each of them is implemented by human judgement and agency. Without that, a merely mechanical cause-effect chain would soon collapse. In a stockroom the roof might spring a leak and cause damage and the damage might spread. No mechanical monitoring can take note of all eventualities. The human would intervene and make adjustments such as replacing a water damaged case. This intervention would not show up on the flow chart. And similarly at every stage there is human supervision and if necessary intervention.

What Rama Tirtha is saying is that the regularities of nature are similarly initiated and controlled by deities in each element and they in turn are controlled by the cosmic mind pervading everything, known as the Antar-yamin or inner controller.

Our materialistic science gives no account of why the so-called laws of nature are what they are. Why do like charges repel? There is no answer – they simply do. Why does gravity attract, or mass make space bend? It simply does. But in the yogic view we stand here because the goddess of the earth pulls us just so much; if she pulled more we should fall flat on our faces, and if she ceased to pull we should float away into the air (Sankara commentary on Prashna Upanishad, c.400 BC)

Question: Well what is the evidence that the Controller is benevolent. The course of the world is seen by philosophers such as Bertrand Russell as hostile to man.

Answer: There is a current towards beauty and harmony which if it flows freely, produces lives and works of beauty and harmony even in adverse circumstances. It is obstructed by rocks of personal desire and ambition and fear. When those rocks are removed or at least lessened the current flows smoothly and becomes in fact more favourable to the Yogi who is trying to rise above the restrictions of individual personality.

Question: But if the surface cause and effect still has to be preserved according to the laws of nature, I don’t see how there can be any change to favour the impulse to transcendence by the Yogi. The script would still have to be followed, the musical score would have to be played.

Answer: As we know, the great actor does vary the delivery of the script. The great violinist or singer has a vibrato, which consists in fractionally moving off the note and then immediately returning. These things create new beauty and harmony. Similarly the assumed absolute rigidity of cause and effect in nature is in fact not observable or predictable. It is part of the rhetoric of science. Newton had to assume that the orbit of Mars could be determined by treating the planet as if the whole mass were at a point in the centre; he later had some trouble proving it but as it happened it worked fairly well.

Question: I knew you would say that, these divine interventions are always on such a tiny scale that they can’t really be demonstrated. Why aren’t there big interventions that everyone could see.

Answer: There are two reasons. The first is that expectancy of interventions to fulfill purely selfish prayers can have a paralysing effect on human action. Lucky charms or lucky days are relied on to bring results, irrespective of conduct or devotion. If it is a lucky day it is needless to try hard because things will turn out well anyway; if it is an unlucky day it is useless to try hard because things will turn out badly anyway.

It is not wrong to associate natural human desires with prayers to the Lord, but the doctrine of the Upanishads and Gita is that unless there is purity and concentrated devotion, these prayers cannot be expected to be fruitful.

The Gita says in III.26 that the man who sees God must not unsettle the minds of those who do not yet see him. He should by all means get them to do actions of a right kind, himself doing them calmly (yukta) and efficiently (abhiyukta), as an example.

The second point is that when there is collective concentration produced by a traditional ceremony or by the presence of some charismatic figure there are striking interventions. But these may be covered over by sceptics with ad hoc assumptions. The same thing happens in science itself. Newton knew that there was something wrong with the calculated orbit of Mercury. We know today this is a Relativity effect but for a century after Newton astronomers had to explain the anomaly somehow. This they did by assuming that a plasma must be coming out of the sun and affecting Mercury. So there was nothing mysterious about it. Thus they covered up the causal gap and the same is done for any event not explicable in terms of their excepted categories. The fallacy of David Hume and Bertrand Russell is that they implicitly assume that all the laws of nature are already known and so must completely describe every event. So what Rama Tirtha is telling us is that we should see not causality but regularity imposed by consciousness, called the inner controller. When the mind is purified and focussed by Yoga practice, the Antar- yamin within the individual opens out to the universal Antar-yamin and the cosmic purposes of the latter find direct expression through the now transparent mind of the individual.

Now it is not an actor reading a script or a musician playing a score but it is the writer himself improvising on the stage or the musician composing at the piano.

© 2000 Trevor Leggett

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