Trevor Leggett: Our teacher sometimes quoted the last lines of verses by a late Victorian poet, Henley.
‘Out of the night that covers me, dark as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods there be for my unconquerable soul. It matters not how strait the gait, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’.
When we hear these words, provided we are reasonably comfortable, there is a tendency to sit back in the stall, so to speak, and go, “Bravo. Magnificent defiance of death.” But of course we don’t take it as real. He has long been dead. And the cynics say, “It was a puppy barking bravely in front of a steamroller. Was he master of his fate?”
But our teacher quoted them. These were not to be word clouds, sometimes magnificent and splendid, sometimes dark and grey. They were realities. It is essential that when we hear the holy texts they should not become beautiful, inspiring poems without an actual reality.
This applies in many branches. Truth can become merely theory. The great scientist, Eddington, as long ago as 1927, wrote a famous book, Nature of the Physical World, in which he gave the example of two tables. One is the substantial table, on which we rest our papers and arms. And the other…
Just read, could you?
Reader: ‘My scientific table is mostly emptiness. Sparsely scattered in that emptiness are numerous electric charges, rushing about with great speed. But their combined bulk amounts to less than a billionth of the bulk of the table itself’.
Trevor Leggett: This is supposed to be the reality of the table, the scientific reality of it. And all the interesting features for us, such as its colour, its hardness, its steadiness and its purpose, are all projections of the human mind through the senses and interpreted by the brain. But scientists themselves cannot always remember that it is really a scientific table.
A great philosopher-scientist, it was put to him that consciousness is always present whenever we speak of reality. He said, “Oh, no. I can easily imagine a time when Earth was simply a mass of blazing rocks and no consciousness whatever.”
He did not see. He did not remember that on his own theory blazing rocks are projections of the human mind onto largely empty space, with electrons whirling about. So all there could be there would be masses of configurations of empty spaces, which if a human consciousness were there would look like blazing rocks. But he did not see that.
In other words, although he is a well-known philosopher of science, he could not actually remember when it came to the point about his own theory.
And in the same way we are told that it must not degenerate into theory. Which is not in fact taken in by us but which remains a bare theory.
The yoga philosophy, as you often hear from this platform and you read in books, is that the universe is a superimposition, an illusory superimposition projected by the absolute, and if it is taken as real that forms ignorance which prevents us from seeing the absolute. To that extent it is an illusion.
Now, illusions are of two kinds, and it is quite important to remember the distinction between them. One of them has no actual basis and the other has a basis of substratum.
For no actual basis think of Father Christmas. Now, this is a concept, an idea, which we teach to very small children to teach the virtues of generosity and kindness and a little thrill, excitement.
And the reality of Father Christmas is spoken of. He comes down… Well, he does not come down the chimney now. There are no chimneys. He probably comes in down the aerial. But it teaches generosity and goodwill.
And it has done. My father told me in World War I the British and German soldiers would not shoot at each other on Christmas Day.
But, nevertheless, it is an illusion. When the children grow up they are told, or they find out by themselves, there is no Father Christmas.
So the illusion was imposed. It had a purpose. But then it is withdrawn. This is one kind of illusion. There is no basis. Father Christmas could be short and fat. He could be tall and thin. He could have blue boots. One time he was thought to have a sledge with reindeer, riding above the clouds. All these things can be put on and taken off at will.
There is another kind of illusion. The classical example is given when you see in the half-light a rope on the ground, and because your lamp with which you are moving is moving the shadow of the snake moves, and therefore the rope seems to move. It seems to be a snake.
Now, that is an illusion of a snake where there is really a rope, but it has a substratum. That is to say if the rope has a coil in it then the snake you see has a coil in it. There is a correspondence. It is not just a free fantasy, as Father Christmas.
Now, it is easy to confuse these two kinds of illusion. One with no substratum, which can be put on or taken off at will. And the other with a substratum.
Now, one of the methods of teaching by Shankaracharya is said to be superimposition. Putting on things which are false, imaginary, fantastic ideas, and then removing them. So we put superimpositions onto the absolute and then remove them. And that means liberation.
Now, as the example of this, this is from a very reputable textbook on Advaita .
Reader: ‘We superimpose qualities and relations, such as omniscience, omnipotence, causality etc., on the absolute, as they help us to understand it to start with. This is the stage of superimposition. On closer examination, we find that the absolute, which is super-sensuous, is free from qualities and relations, and so we negate it of all qualities and relations. This is the stage of negation’.
Trevor Leggett: This is the stage of negation.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Universal Law
Part 2: Theories cannot actually be lived through
Part 3: Teach me Brahman
Part 4: Ananda spoke to the Buddha