Purify and organise the mind and body
Then, manas, the mind – to enter the mind body, and to purify and organise the mind body. In the west, we don’t recognise what is called purification of the mind, at all. We just say, “No, I can judge. I can judge.” – especially scientists, they are very arrogant. They don’t admit that they have an unconscious prejudice. That is not admitted. “No, I am objective. My scientific training has made me objective.” But, as a matter of fact, if you look at the history of science – for instance, Pasteur – he was bitterly opposed, furiously opposed to the continental drift idea which, with plate tectonics, is now orthodox. When it was first proposed here, Bragg, as a young man, showed an article on the continental drift by Wegener to one of the most prominent British geologists at the time. Bragg said, “For the first time in my life, and the only time in my life, I saw a man literally foam at the mouth.” That is not objective, unprejudiced science.
But let us take a modern example. One of the great philosophers of science is Sir Karl Popper. He is very famous. He’s objective, if anyone is. Great scientists like Peter Medawar support him and say that their own outlook is based on Sir Karl’s views. But he has a prejudice, and a very strong one – and one of the prejudices he has is against things like inspiration in science. I’ll read a short extract from his book, ‘Conjectures and Refutations’ which is about 20 years old:
“Some of the most interesting and most admirable theories ever conceived were refuted at the very first test. An example is the marvellous theory of Bohr, Kramers and Slater, of 1924, which, as an intellectual achievement might perhaps even rank with Bohr’s theory of the hydrogen atom of 1913. Yet, unfortunately, it was almost at once refuted by the facts, by the coincidence experiments of Bolter and Geiger.” Now, this sentence, “This shows that not even the greatest physicist can anticipate the secrets of nature. His inspirations can only be guesses. It is no fault of his, or of his theory, if it is refuted.” ‘This shows that not even the greatest physicist can anticipate the secrets of nature.’ He has given one example and this shows that even the greatest physicist cannot – from one example – cannot. He means, in that case, did not.
If we take Clerk Maxwell – one of the greatest mathematicians of the last century – when he was making a calculation which was based on some French work, he didn’t remember to convert the metres into yards, and so the results came out rather extraordinary. You could say, “This shows that not even the greatest mathematician can make a calculation correctly if it involves two sets of units.” What nonsense. It means, in that one case, he failed to do so – but it doesn’t mean that he cannot.
If we look at Popper’s book, we find he flatly contradicts himself. He has just said (on page 242), “This shows not even the greatest physicist can anticipate the secrets of nature. His inspirations can only be guesses.” But, almost 100 pages apart, he is talking about the Greek science, and he says, “With his uncanny intuition, Heraclitus saw that things are processes, that our bodies are flames, that a rock, or bronze cauldron is invariably undergoing invisible changes.” Here, suddenly, he says, ‘With his uncanny intuition, Heraclitus saw’. This great philosopher of science (it wouldn’t be fair in the case of an ordinary man to pick up a contradiction like this), this professional philosopher of science, flatly contradicts himself and in his example from a single case, of a single failure, is saying, “There can never be a success.” This is an example of the prejudice, the unconscious assumptions and desires in the mind which reflect themselves, and they then choose evidence to back up their preconceptions, even at the cost of contradicting themselves.
Shankara, in his commentary, lays great stress on this point. The mind has to be purified of likes and dislikes and preconceived ideas. He says, among other things, “Even in the world, a man will not be successful who is at the mercy of preconceived ideas and of likes and dislikes. He must be able to free himself from them, or, even in the world, he will not be successful.”
We have fixed notions. On Kaleidoscope (the TV programme) the other day, some feminists were saying, ‘Always and everywhere, women’s literary work is seen as merely peripheral and merely supplementary to men’s.’ They then produce some evidence from the literature of Britain. They said, “Always and everywhere…” This is completely untrue of the literature of Japan, which never had the Dark Ages, and is just as great as the British literature. Of the classical literature of Japan, the two greatest masterpieces in 2000 years were both by women, and in every phase of that literature there is a galaxy of women stars. This is an example, again, of a particular prejudice which is then, without any evidence, extended. ‘Always and everywhere, women’s work is seen as merely peripheral…’. Quite untrue. In fact, in the histories of Japanese literature, you will find reference to the fact that, in a certain sense, it is a woman’s literature. Even today, in Japan, there are five million poets – five million – and many of them are women. They have the annual poetry competition at the end of every year. They get 30,000 entries and many of the prize winners are women.
This is, again, an example of a fixed idea which we can’t get rid of. A large part of yogic mental training consists in getting rid of these fixed ideas, being able to be free of them; then taking them up again, if necessary, but consciously knowing what we are doing, instead of being the slave of them.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are
Part 4: A system of training the mind
Part 5: Overcoming pain of body and mind
Part 6: Independence of outer things