Theories may be propounded but cannot be lived through


We can easily get into the idea of mere theory, as though Vedanta was simply intellectual concepts, superimposing concepts and then taking them off again at will. But it is not so. The theories may be propounded, but they cannot actually be lived through, even though the Vedanta is supported by very carefully reasoned arguments and very fine analysis of states of consciousness, to which full assent is given. Yes, it is proved, and yet it cannot be taken in. Well, if it is proved, and we know it is proved and we accept it, how is it that it is not taken in? I’ll give an example.

A newly rich businessman wanted to show off his new house, so he invited a host of fifty odd guests, with the occasion being his sister’s return from abroad. She had married an astronomer, and he was going to meet some of her friends. In the course of conversation, it turned out that this astronomer was also interested in astrology. He said, “I think there is something there. It is full of superstitions, of course, but I think something is there and I and a few scientific friends are studying it. The host said aggressively, ” No! How can you call yourself a scientist if you study astrology? You will never make exact predictions. It is all about this likelihood is possible [of this or that happening] and then when it does not turn up then there are excuses.” The astronomer/astrologer got a bit nettled and said, “Well, it is quite true that astrology deals mostly in tendencies, which are difficult to confirm, but there are occasions, such as in a group like this, where it is possible to make an exact prediction, then and there.” The host sneered, and said’ “Oh yes, and I suppose, that this not one of those occasions, unfortunately.” The astronomer said, “Well, as matter a fact, it is. In our astrology, people born on the same birthday have what we call a birthday bond, and I sense that there is one here. As you are know, I’ve come from abroad and I don’t know any of these people. I don’t know who they are, but I know that there are two people here who have a birthday bond. What do you think is the likelihood of that happening by chance?” The host looked round and said, “Well, there are about 50 people here and 365 days in a year…. So I think it could happen about 1 in 7.” The astronomer said, “Well now, I will make a definite prediction that it is so.”

The host was delighted. He put two chairs in the middle of the room, and the people were to file through the chairs and as they went between the chairs, they would call out their birthdays. When about the eleventh person went through and said, “September 3rd”, somebody spoke up from the crowd, still to go through, ” Yes, I am September 3rd [too].” The host said, “Oh, that’s just a fluke,” and the astronomer/astrologer said, “It‘s not a fluke. I predicted it, didn’t I?” And the host said, “Well, it’s a fluke that you predicted a fluke,” so the other man said, “Do you remember what you said about finding excuses when you’re wrong?” So the subject was changed.

There was a mathematician at the party, and he said to the astronomer, “You were on to a pretty good thing there. It’s almost certain [to happen]. You’re a mathematician, too?” He said,”Yes.”

[A sheet on a board, representing a calendar is displayed]. The white squares are the calendar of the year: 365 days and these little black dots are the 50 people. If at random those dots were scattered about by a blind person, what is the likelihood that two of them will fall in the same box? It seems pretty small. If they were spread out evenly, each dot would have seven days, seven boxes, to go into, and by the law of averages they ought to be spread out fairly evenly, although there will be a few irregularities. But to say that it is certain that two of them will land in the same box seems unbelievable. Yet there is mathematical proof that it is so. We can go back to our school mathematics, and with labour, and perhaps the help of a mathematician, establish the proof that it must be so: 97% of the time two of the black dots will land in the same box. Now we can read through the proof and be absolutely convinced, yet common sense tells us ‘no’.

How is that going to be changed? It is changed in one way: we do an experiment. I got hold of ‘Who’s Who’, which gives the birthdays, not merely years of birth, but the birthday of everyone in it, and took samples of the entries. The first six or seven names listed were taken from each alphabetical section, and I ended up with three groups of fifty. I then checked them over to see if there were any pairs born on the same day. In the first group of fifty there was one pair, born on April 6, but in the next group there were four: March 13, July 11, June 14, and November 15. After that, my instinctive inability to believe it disappeared because the experiment confirmed it.

In the same vein, in yoga we have theories, and they can be proved by very careful reasoning and analysis. Yet, the mind does not take them in.

But, when they are verified, partially at least by experiment, then the resistance of the mind is overcome and they can be accepted. It must not be merely theory. If it is merely theory, it will never have any depth to it. We shall be told, “You are that”, and we shall say, “Yes, I can say without any hesitation I am… oh, it’s not quite clear… oh! Brahman! I am Brahman! I am fear….(turns the page)…less and immortal!’ No, that is merely theory. It has to be something which is true by experience, not simply a theory.


© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Word Clouds and Realities

Part 2: One method of teaching by Shankaracharya is superimposition

Part 3: Yoga theories can be verified by experiment

Part 4: Intensity of enquiry enables transformation

Part 5: Theories may be propounded but cannot be lived through

Part 6: The Great Lord seated in the body

Recap of experimental verification argument: Vedanta is supported by very carefully reasoned arguments


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