Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 21: Mentalism > Chapter 4: The Challenge of Mentalism
The Challenge of Mentalism
If materialism reduces man to mere physical substance, mentalism magnifies him to the grander stature of Mind.
The mere definition of mentalism startles the common mind, antagonizes the materialistic mind, but comforts the spiritually oriented mind.
Mentalism is the first and best way of breaking through the glamour which the world's materiality throws over most people. The Real is hidden from them. Consciousness is then supposed to be a property belonging to a lump of matter. This upside-down assumption is a false piece of knowledge. It must be dropped from possession, from held faith and reasoned conclusion--and each person must do this for himself: no other can take his place, not even a guru--or the illusion will return.
So long as a man does not see that his sense experiences are really mental experiences, so long will the truth of spiritual being remain effectually veiled from him.
In this doctrine of mentalism we come upon the central mystery of philosophy.
The mentalist character of all their experience is little or not at all understood by the great mass of people. Yet, curiously and paradoxically, this truth is the hidden basis of their religious beliefs, no matter what sect they belong to, for mentalism alone can make plainer the idea of Spirit, and make plausible the operations of Spirit.
If he does not wish to trouble his head, he can comfortably accept the appearances of things; but then he will be living only in the comfort of illusion. If however he wants to ferret out what is real in existence he must put himself to some trouble. He must persevere, read and re-read these pages until the meaning of it all dawns suddenly upon him, as it will if he does. It is perfectly natural for man to regard as the highest reality the experiences which impress themselves most forcibly upon him, which are those gained externally through his physical senses, and to regard as but half-real the experiences which impress themselves least forcibly upon him, which are those created internally by his own thoughts and fancies. But if he can be brought, as a true metaphysics can bring him, to arrive intellectually at the discernment that when he believes he is seeing and experiencing matter he is only seeing and experiencing thought, and that the entire cosmos is an image co-jointly held in the cosmic and individual minds, he will not unconsciously set up all those artificial resistances to the mystical intuitions and ultramystical illuminations which wait in the future for him.
If negatively it rejects the teaching of materialism that all mental conditions have their origin in matter, it has good reasons for its rejection. If positively it finds that Mind is the reality which sustains our experience of the world, it has the high authority of a long list of illustrious names to support it--from ancient India, China, and Greece to modern England, America, and Germany.
We do not intend to deal here with some supernatural "spirit" which does not explain the world but only mystifies us, which is beyond all ordinary experience and whose existence cannot be irrefutably proved. We do not need to go beyond Mind--which explains the world as a form of consciousness, which is everyone's familiar experience at every moment of the day or night, and whose existence is unquestionably self-evident, for it makes us aware of every other kind of existence.
It is because men are deceived by their senses into accepting materialism that they are deceived by their ego into committing sin. Mentalism is not only an intellectual doctrine but also an ethical one.
Mentalism as the key to the understanding of the nature of the universe dissolves materialism. In this way it restores real religion to its rightful place and importance, but it does not restore the hollow semi-materialistic theatrical performance which passes for it. It restores a truer concept of God and brings back a solidly based faith in God.
If God is not the inner reality of this universe, then Matter is both its inner and outer reality. There will then be no room in the thinking mind for any belief other than materialism, no place for religion, no admittance to a spiritual metaphysics.
The notions of existence of fairies, devas, gods, goddesses, and especially of invisible worlds and planes and invisible beings and spirits are given through the form of popular myth and simple religion to primitive humanity partly to help them up from crude materialism and partly to foreshadow the doctrine that all worlds and all people are ideas. For ideas are as beyond the senses as are the invisible worlds and their beings. The early races of men would never have been able to understand idealism, and so an intermediate and understandable doctrine was given them; they could imagine heavens and hells and spirits as existing somewhere, even when they could not imagine that the solid earth was mere idea.
That man can hold the secret of this stupendous universe in his little head is something to be marvelled at.
The dematerializing of human belief has to pass through more than one stage before the process completes itself. All religious, metaphysical, and mystical systems which recognize the existence of Spirit but, side by side with it, the reality of Matter also, have passed through the earlier stages but not through the later ones. Only when they advance to mentalism will this final dematerialization be possible.
When a man begins to make Thought the subject of his thoughts, he opens a path to great discoveries.
Once rid of the basic error of materialism, once he has comprehended mentalism, the way is open for a real, and not illusory, progress.
How many riddles shall we solve, how many secrets unlock, when we solve the riddle of our own mind!
Man's search for an intelligible meaning in the universe can have no full success until he divests his thought of its materialistic assumptions and replaces them by mentalistic facts.
If the basic teaching of Mentalism seems too daring to risk acceptance, too impossible to be credible, he should look into the statements of celebrated persons who supported it--Plato, Plotinus, Chuang Tzu, Sir James Jeans, Bishop Berkeley.
It was a favorite saying of my venerable old teacher, the late Subramanya Iyer, that you may measure the spiritual profundity of a people or nation by its appreciation and acceptance of the doctrine of mentalism.
Is mentalism suited to the world's present needs? On scientific, cultural, practical, and religious grounds, we reply Yes.
Truth, in its higher reaches, is subversive of common sense, shattering to common mentality, and inconceivable to ego-cramped persons.
To be initiated into "The Mysteries" is to be introduced to the revelation of Mentalism, to what it means and to what startling consequences it leads; it is to discover that life, after all, no matter how thrilling, is like a dream passing in the night. But even the uninitiated are not allowed to stay in perpetual ignorance. For the tremendous event of leaving the body at death is attended by the enforced learning of this lesson, however much a man clings to his memories of this world.
With intellectual assurance, mystical experience, and the sages' confirmation, he can afford a wholehearted assurance about the truth of mentalism.
If it can make a man radiant and his aura vibrant, as mentalism properly understood can, it surely has sufficient inspiration behind it.
We may weep over, or laugh at, the human situation but whatever we do it is prudent to look at it through the glass of mentalism.
Unless there is a thorough understanding and appreciation of mentalism, several other important doctrines will remain incomprehensible to the human mind, or else will be incorrectly interpreted.
To understand this, to believe in the reality of mind and in the falsity of matter, is to escape from a delusion a hundred times subtler than the delusion that the earth is still, when in fact it is really moving quicker than the quickest train.
There are certain guiding ideas which are essential to a properly balanced life and one of them, however surprisingly, is that of mentalism.
To have his beliefs turned upside down and inside out may be painful for a man, but it could also be beneficial. This is certainly the case concerning the belief in mentalism.
Adherents of religion, practisers of meditation, and dabblers in spiritism, magic, or occultism can hypnotize themselves into believing anything, such as that there is no individual self, no physical world, and no physical disease. All these beliefs may be contradicted by their own experience or may be confirmed in temporary mental states. If the former, they ignore or explain away the contradiction. If the latter, the state passes away and they return to normal--a common phenomenon of hypnotism. Mind can play tricks upon itself, by itself, upon others. To understand what is true and what is false in such beliefs we must turn away from their parrot-like repetition to the study of mind in its various phases. This is supposedly done, and in great detail, in the academic world; but the central, the most important point is entirely missed. To learn what that is, study Mentalism.
When we ask what is the purpose of the individual's existence, we shall find that the physical world can give us neither a complete nor a satisfying answer.
This doctrine is the spinal column of the whole body of philosophic teaching.
Through mentalism he will learn to question the earth's seeming reality and his own personality's seeming identity.
From this single idea of mentalism, several others take their birth.
This thought, this idea, is as topical and living today as it was in the time of the Greek Proclus, the Chinese Chuang Tzu, and the Hindu Vasistha.
The effort required
The teachings of mentalism must be turned round and round, like a globe, until every aspect of it is seen and studied.
To appreciate the teaching that the world is an appearance is immeasurably easier than to establish its actuality in consciousness.
The road from mentalism as conception to mentalism as a conviction is a long one.
Few will welcome an astounding teaching like mentalism which turns their beliefs, ideas, even experiences, upside down.
When a man really understands this tenet of mentalism, he will admit its truth for he cannot help but do so. The defect in those who combat or reject it is a defect in investigation, study, and knowledge.
Faith in mentalism sometimes comes abruptly, on its very first presentation, when it comes with shattering force. More often it comes slowly, after having been fought by doubt and argument every step of the way.
If he becomes a real thinker he may also come in time to a self-conversion to the basic truth of mentalism.
Mentalism, the teaching that this is a mental universe, is too hard to believe for the ordinary man yet too hard to disbelieve for the illumined man. This is because to the first it is only a theory, but to the second it is a personal experience. The ordinary man's consciousness is kept captive by his senses, each of which reports a world of matter outside him. The illumined man's consciousness is free to be itself, to report its own reality and to reveal the senses and their world to be mere ideation.
The spirit of true Science must be ours, too. We can accept nothing as true which is dubious as undemonstrable. The modern world, and especially the Western world, can sympathize with a teaching only if it will stand the double test of reason and experience.
Only a highly educated mind can appreciate intellectually the truth which lies in mentalism, as only a highly intuitive one can feel its truth.
If the Sphinx of mystic wisdom has kept her secrets well down all these centuries, she has not kept them from a few probing minds who have attained a sufficient measure of emancipation from the body to possess the proper equipment for such exploration.
It is seldom that the meaning of mentalism is immediately grasped; this is why it needs both explaining and approaching from various angles.
If we examine the world with the surface-faculties of the mind, we get a surface-result. If, however, we examine it with the deeper faculties, we shall get a deeper result.
It is not only a doctrinal belief to be accepted but also a metaphysical truth to be understood.
We dwell in a shadow world which seems to the unenquiring solid and substantial and therefore quite real. A man must do much to himself to make the journey from the illusion of the one to the illumination of the other.
How shall thinking man find his way out of the materialism into which his thought has led him? Consciousness is the clue. For if he will follow up this Ariadne-thread it will lead him into the liberating knowledge of mentalism.
In the beginning, Mentalism needs both study and thought, repeated again and again until the leap into understanding is finally made. When that happens there is a kind of intellectual catch-of-the-breath. From then onward it becomes a clear irrefutable doctrine. It is even more: it inspiringly opens the way to the major truths of real religion.
It is a truth which, because of its tremendous importance, its eternal unchanging character, clamours to be proclaimed to every age afresh but which, because of its very nature, is the least mentioned, the most unfamiliar of all. However late in his life a man discovers this truth for himself, its surprise is overwhelming. For most people are simply not ready to receive it.
Intellect, because of insufficient data or emotional distortions, may be misleading. Sense, whether touch or sight, because of physical and mental illusions, may be deceptive. Thus we are forewarned by the practical experiences of life not to reject mentalism hastily merely because it offends intellect or conflicts with sense. It is easy for the impatient to dismiss mentalism with an irritable stamp of the foot, as Dr. Samuel Johnson did the kindred teaching of Berkeley, but men who have given more time and thought to this subject are not so hasty in reaching a conclusion. After thirty years of teaching academic philosophy in London, Dr. C.E.M. Joad was forced to confess that the questions involved in mentalism are too difficult to be settled with any degree of certainty.
It is a doctrine which shocks common sense and clashes with simple experience. For it is ineffably subtle and immeasurably supersensuous. It can make its way into men's hearts only by struggling long and hard with them.
Every philosophy must start with things as they are, as we find them, and then it ascends up to higher and ultimate truths. We find matter to be real. So we do not assume its unreality, but proceed to prove that on the initial basis of its reality. But blind dogmatists reverse the process and start with unproved dogmas.
He should not rest satisfied with hazy notions of mentalism but should get its principles in sharp, clear focus. If necessary he should return and reconsider them until they are well understood. This may demand hard work but it is well worthwhile.
Only the unreflective man can be a materialist, for only he can accept the prosaic fact of the world's existence without enquiry into what lies beneath it. The man who can make his reflections deep enough and sustained enough mentally discovers that the world's appearance is illusionary and that the world's reality certainly does not lie in its materiality.
Mentalism has evoked disdain, ridicule, or attempts to refute it, but none has successfully done so.
The idea must sink ever deeper and deeper if it is to become strong and resurface later as understanding and conviction.
I have met very few people who really understand what is the simplest of all mystical, religious, and metaphysical tenets and yet, at the same time, the most important of them all--mentalism.
It is a measure of the depth, subtlety, and freedom of a man's mind how far he can follow the thread of mentalism to a point where he himself must refute materialism.
It is by repeatedly returning to an idea so utterly strange as this mentalism, learning to know it well and making oneself thoroughly familiar with it, that the materialistic resistance to it is gradually diminished.
Some are not so arrogant as to dismiss it with scorn. But it bewilders them all the same because it is too far from their experience and comprehension.
When the understanding of mentalism attains maturity the conviction of its truth attains finality. There will be no foothold for doubt. Thereafter the mentalist's attitude becomes unshakeable.
Everyone sees first only the absurdity of mentalism; some, proceeding to investigate, become bewildered by it; a few, persevering until they master it, see its truth.
They are victims of their experience: the world is solid, so it seems to be material; it is continuous and lasting, so it seems to be real. Only instruction, intuition, profound thinking, or profound mystical experience can dissuade them from their ignorant opinion and show them that it is the Consciousness behind their experience which is real.
We, the universe, everything, are pure Mind. This is unchangeable, hence unevolutable, or it could not be the Real. Once you awaken to IT you know it always was what it is; it can never evolve. All the rest was a kind of self-hypnotization, hence unreal. In that sense the Garden of Eden story is correct. We were then immortal, immaterial, innocent. We lost this by losing our awareness and accepting a limited idea of ourselves. We have been driven out of the Garden because we wanted knowledge. Knowledge presupposes "a second thing"--something to be known. Thus we lost unity, sought a world of objects, and got into oblivion of self. The happy Edenic state can be restored by right thinking and de-hypnotization of ourselves.
A rare few understand and know the truth of mentalism; they have validated it intellectually and verified it experientially: its mystical side is open to them daily and they pass into it nightly. But the great mass of people have never even heard of it.
Inevitably, as his reflections on mentalism continue and deepen and his intuitions assert themselves, a man comes to the time when it triumphs. Then, subtly, what he regards as reality changes and shifts from matter to mind.
Wide experience shows that it is not worth trying to convince those who deny this fundamental axiom. They lack the power to think abstractly and mere reiteration will not supply it. To expect them to be able to set aside their present standpoint and leap up to a higher one is vain; to explain what is incomprehensible to them is useless.
It would be better to keep silent than to make concessions out of weakness to the multitude's bias or incredulity. For mentalism is admittedly hard to apprehend until the last stages of meditation alters its level. The ego's heavy weight falls off his shoulders then: it imperceptibly lets go.
If the understanding of the truth of mentalism sinks deep enough, it will become lasting enough in the same way that the understanding of two plus two equals four remains an established knowledge.
The mentality which can carry its thought deep enough, and sustain the single line long enough, will in the end have to give intellectual assent to this grand concept.
Belief in materiality is natural because men need form and images, something touchable, whereas only developed minds can receive into consciousness abstract ideas like mentalism's truth and reality. Hence materiality--that is, maya, deception, illusion--is easily accepted.
The central truth of mentalism is both easy and hard to understand.
Mentalism is not to the taste of most people. It does violence to their common sense. It is too little known, hence has few followers. There are two kinds of truth: one is the truth of appearances, and the other is hidden deep down. The first is easy to understand; the other requires much work on one's own mind to get it sharp enough to recognize what is so elusive.
Put in the shortest way, mentalism is the teaching that all human experience is mental experience. But this truth does not come by itself to the uninstructed.
A special kind of patience is needed to gain a correct understanding of mentalism. The key idea that the world's existence (including our own, since we too are a part of it) is in the end a mental one can be set down in a single sentence. But the clear and full grasp of all its implications could absorb the larger fraction of a lifetime for many persons, or a few months only for others.
It is not easy to perceive the truth of mentalism: if it were, religion would not have been needed nor mysticism practised. Thought and feeling must struggle with themselves, and suffer, before illusion is shifted out of the way.
Many who tried to understand mentalism have complained that they could not do so. Such an intellectual failure is understandable. The old thought-habits need a total reconstruction. The new ones, bringing in new ideas, must be learned until acceptable and then practised patiently.
The fact is that there are few actual mystics but many more would-be ones. Consequently there are few who fully recognize, understand, and accept this truth of mentalism.
No man becomes a confirmed mentalist save after many doubts and some lapses, after strenuous reflections extending over years, and mystical intuitions manifesting in spite of himself. The strangeness and mystery of this doctrine are too baffling to be overcome either easily or quickly.
The acceptance of mentalist views is perhaps possible only after a great strain upon the intellect and the emotions has been passed through and left behind. This is comprehensible because the changeover from the familiar and conventional standpoint is so immense and so abrupt.
A modern man, educated in the scientific outlook, feels as a first reaction to such statements the impulse to reject them. A wiser reaction would be to take second thoughts and enquire into the reasons which prompted the seers to make them.
Unreflective minds are amazed, then scornful, when they first hear someone deny the existence of matter. Reflective minds are equally amazed but less scornful. If they take the trouble to investigate the assertion, they may be left with an uncomfortable suspicion that there might be something in it, even though they feel it too deep or too difficult for a final judgement.
A man needs to be extremely scrupulous about his own thinking, about what it contains of influences, suggestions, and preconceptions, before he can reflect philosophically about the Truth. That few persons arrive at mentalism is mostly because they fail to do so.
If in earlier eras a select tiny minority alone could take hold of the basic truths of mentalism, because they alone had the educational preparation, the intellectual development and emotional refinement, the personal leisure and the will to do so, in this era the ordinary man may, at least in part, do so. Teachings and revelations formerly regarded as inaccessible in his case can now have more interest and some meaning for him.
The physical world exists as a reality only with reference to the physical senses. For when insight is developed it is seen to be a mental state. How can the two views be harmonized? By analysis and study, by pondering over the very idea itself, and by deeper meditation. Spirit is thenceforth no enigma to the intellect.
The theory of mentalism is not understandable by the ordinary man when he is presented with it for the first time. It then seems puzzling as the hieroglyphics on an Egyptian papyrus. But if the same man will perseveringly study the explanations of it, eventually light will break in on his mind and he will see its truth.
The very idea that this world is not what it seems to be would yield an uncanny feeling did it not yield a derisive one much more to the vulgar mind.
In dealing with those who have not evolved enough to understand, much less accept, such a high doctrine as mentalism, it becomes necessary to modify, simplify, or even withhold it for a time.
Up to a certain point, the teachings are well within the mental grasp of any average mentality, but beyond that point they are not.
Whether we begin by accepting no knowledge not born out of common experience or whether we begin by accepting conclusions derived from transcendental dogmas, the end will be the same: mentalism!
It is the easiest of acts to reject mentalism but the hardest to refute it.
The sensation which a man experiences when he first begins to investigate mentalism is something like the one he experiences when standing on his head.
How few have reflected that all this multitude of different thoughts which stream through their consciousness presupposes the existence of a single Thought-stuff?
By applying either his belief in, or his knowledge of, mentalism and throwing everything into Mind, he practises nondualism and gets rid of the divided subject-object attitude. This work may take many years or it may not: it must be done calmly, patiently, without attempting to measure progress--itself an obstructive idea.
Those who have not had the inward revelation granted them, who have not awakened what the Hindu yogis call antardrishti, a kind of clairvoyant insight, often believe that mentalism is mere theory and that its talk of the world's unreality is mere verbalism. Even some among the seers have not seen this, although they have seen much else that fleshly eyes cannot. Sri Aurobindo in India, for instance, disputed mentalism, although his neighbour and contemporary, Ramana Maharshi, fully accepted it. Rudolf Steiner in Switzerland likewise disputed it although J.J. van der Leeuw, his Dutch contemporary, understood and explained it. This situation is strange, but among the sages with whom I found the deepest penetration into the nature of things and who were nearly all mentalists, some observed that the capacity to receive and understand the mentalist doctrine was the sharpest of all tests to which a truth-seeker could be subjected.
Many years ago Einstein was reported as criticizing Jeans and Eddington for their mentalistic views. He asked why anybody like the astronomer Jeans should trouble to look at the stars if he did not believe that they were really there. This is a tremendous misconception of the mentalist position.
If a study is made of the way in which we become aware of physical things, the process by which we perceive Nature around us, and if we put the collected facts into logical order and extract a logical conclusion from them, we shall understand a little better why the world's profoundest thinkers and most illumined mystics were mentalists.
No one yet has successfully refuted the logical truth of mentalism. Yet few people feel it to be true and therefore few can bring themselves to accept it. It is easy for a solitary mystic here and there who has been granted the revelation through his mystical experience, to adhere stubbornly to the statement that the world is a product of consciousness. But for others belief wavers and doubt undermines.
Tolstoy, when a mere youth, caught a glimpse of mentalist truth but fell into solipsistic fallacy. He thought he alone existed and that he merely had to withdraw his attention from the world-idea, and then it would completely vanish. Sometimes he even turned round abruptly, hoping to see this vast void!
It is strange how illuminated mystics have been unable to agree with each other on the question of mentalism and its truth. Among the moderns, Rudolf Steiner vehemently opposes it, whereas Ramana Maharshi strongly upholds it. Among the ancients, Patanjali deliberately attacked it, whereas Gaudapada specially advocated it. And if we leave the mystics for a moment and turn to the scientists, the same puzzling contradiction will be found: Thomas Henry Huxley and Sir Arthur Eddington bravely endorsed mentalism, whereas Einstein openly ridiculed it. How, when these great minds cannot settle the problem of mentalism once and for all, can the lesser ones of the mass of humanity hope to solve it?
There is one sentence in Professor Joad's book entitled God and Evil in which he mentions that after studying and teaching philosophy for thirty years he is unable to make up his mind either way about the truth of mentalism. This, if anything, should be a caution against its quick rejection, even though it is admittedly not an argument in its favour.
The mentalist position is the most acceptable of all to the philosopher not only because it has come down to him as a traditional teaching of the sages of antiquity, not only because it has proved itself to him in his own personal ultramystic experience, but because of the best of all reasons--it is irrefutable.
Solipsism is a belief into which a man more easily falls if he is a castaway alone on an unvisited island or lost in an uninhabited desert. Those who live in the world of action, who have obligations to and responsibilities in it, who are involved in social occupational and business relationships, are more protected against the solipsistic illusion.
We are moving in a subtle and delicate world when we are moving in the world of mind. It is necessary to comprehend our terms carefully and correctly if we are to understand the teaching of mentalism truthfully.
The Indians have built an entire metaphysical system--the Advaita--around the Upanishadic statement: "The Self alone exists." This might be called spiritual solipsism. To experience during meditation a state confirming this belief is their highest goal. The mind's power to create its own "inner experiences" is known, a power once alluded to by Ramana Maharshi as "expectancy" but which we in the West call "suggestion." The higher phases of Buddhist psychology refer to an almost identical experience as the Advaitic, but in their reference the Self does not enter the picture and its existence is never affirmed. In Mentalism it is understood that consciousness can shed its thoughts during the experience of Mental Quiet--also similar--including thoughts of the world and even of the individual ego, but it is not therefore claimed that these thoughts have no existence too and have never had any at any time. All this shows once again that mystic experience, even in its more advanced stage, is one thing and its interpretation--usually unconsciously made and religiously influenced--is another.
Mentalism leads neither to solipsism (one's own existence is the only existence) nor to Hindu Advaita's denial of the World's existence. The first is a misreading and consequent misunderstanding of it caused by a failing to see that the individual ego is itself a projection of Mind. The second fails to see that as an experience in the field of awareness of that ego, as a given and fundamental idea in that consciousness, it is a coexistent and not to be denied without impairing sanity.
We celebrate the tough logic of mentalism, its metaphysical truth and practical power.
The test of reality is non-contradiction.
There are cults which take the truth of mentalism but misapprehend and pervert it by fallacious reasoning. They do this in order to, as they believe, gain prosperity and regain health.
What even he cannot deny is the consciousness within himself. This, if he only knew, is part of the Universal Consciousness.
But if mentalism solves some of the major problems of existence, it raises some minor ones of its own. These perplex the beginner.
Accepting the Truth
All life is a paradox, being at once a combination of reality and appearance. An obstacle to the comprehension of mentalism is that one persistently, if unconsciously, views the world from the standpoint of the lower personality, which is extremely limited, and not from that of the higher individuality, which transcends both the intellect and the senses. Even life on earth in the body is really a kind of mystical experience from the standpoint of the mentalist but it is only a blurred, vague, and symbolic one. The thinking intellect finds it hard to grasp this situation because it is itself something which has been greatly filtered down out of the higher individuality. Mentalism can be understood up to a point through the use of reasoning but after this point it can only be understood through the use of intuition.
The first acquaintance with some of these ideas--especially the mentalist nature of the world and the future of the personal ego--alarms some people and makes them withdraw from any further interest in such frightening notions.
The simpleton is taken in by appearances. Whether he be a peasant in the field or a politician in the forum, he accepts what he touches, sees, or hears as being nothing more and nothing less than what it purports to be.
That mental processes are a function of the physical body, that they cannot be separated from one another, that thinking and sense-perception have neither existence nor meaning apart from physiology, that mind is identified with flesh and cannot be otherwise--this is the theory of materialism. And a plausible one, too!
Materialists of the scientific kind believe that there is a real material world of nature which is reflected, through sensation and thought, in the human mind. Materialists of the religious kind hold the same belief but add to it belief in a second real world--that of the Spirit. Mentalists reject this belief in a material world and declare the latter to be an appearance to sensation, an idea to thought; they know only a single reality--MIND--and a direct relationship only with its products--ideas.
We must understand that matter is not a thing but a thought within consciousness.
The truth of mentalism can be appreciated and accepted only by those who are either mentally competent to do so or intuitively ready for it. If any man cannot free his mind sufficiently from the erroneous suggestions with which either scientific materialism or religious dogma have straitjacketed it, he will reject the idea. And if he cannot ponder the questions involved with sufficient discernment and penetrate them with sufficient depth, he will reject it too.
Bertrand Russell in his book Knowledge of the External World came near to the metaphysical truth. In the end he couldn't make the leap over the gap. The reason why people can't make the leap is that they are so deeply identified with the body alone. This in turn depends partly on the way of life and partly on mental sensitivity.
The deceptions bred by an unreflective attitude towards the reports of sense and an unintuitive one towards the feeling of personality, enter so deeply into his mental principle because of their growing prevalence during a large number of births that they become almost an integral part of it. The melancholy consequences of this disposition are an inability to believe in mentalism and an incapacity to progress in mysticism.
The illusions of materialism can in the end best be dispelled by the revelations of religious or mystical experience.
It is the incapacity of our thinking, the poverty of our perception, the vividness of our sense-experiences, and the encrustation of our habitual outlook which creates and maintains the illusion of the world's materiality and prevents us from noting that it is really a presence within consciousness. How can those who test reality like Dr. Johnson by using their feet or like any bricklayer by using their hands affirm any other doctrine than that of materialism? Contrarily, how can those who use their God-given intelligence to test reality arrive in the end at any other doctrine than that of mentalism? Those materialists who tell us today that the line of the soul is an unscientific one and that it is a legacy left to us by primitive simpletons are themselves unscientific and oversimple. For science, which began by repudiating mind and exalting matter, is being forced by facts to end by repudiating matter and exalting mind. This is why philosophy today must sharply emphasize and teach, alongside of ancient lore, the profounder mentalist import of vital facts of modern discovery which have not yet received their deserved reward of recognition from the world.
Some people complain that knowledge of mentalism or belief in it cuts off the enjoyment of life and blunts the keenness with which we meet it. I answer: Is their enjoyment of a play at the theatre cut off in any way by their knowledge that it too is only a series of ideas? Are their feelings blunted because the whole show is only the imagination of some author sitting in his study? Are they less able to appreciate its drama, its humour, or its pathos because they know that, like every other thought, it must pass and end?
Those who wish to evade these concrete facts commit a fraud upon themselves and impair their own intellectual integrity.
The doctrine of mentalism cannot be proved completely to satisfy the materialist, but then he cannot disprove it either. To end the dilemma, as a contemporary writer on mysticism ends it, by dismissing it altogether from consideration as an "idle fancy" is to oppose the personal affirmation of mentalism's truth by eminent ancient and modern mystics.
The materialist may turn all the knobs on his radio and adjust them as he will, but he remains unable to tune in to mentalism's wavelength. This is because he insists on missing the point, which is: What about the person who is doing all this?
Without the power to produce abstract thoughts, how can anyone understand that the self, or the mind, Consciousness, even knowledge or perception, is an entity by itself and not merely a by-product of the fleshly brain?
Those who have never thought through their physical experience find the tenet of mentalism incredible, its contradiction of sense-evidence imaginary.
They are willing to believe in mentalism but it is a belief subject to doubts provoked intermittently by apparent contradiction coming from sense-experience.
The mentalist meaning gets lost alas! before this constant confrontation with hard outside objects, reminders of a presumed material stuff out of which they are made.
It is doubtful if God created those strange creatures, the materialists. They arrive on the scene of life with eyes closed to their own existence as mind but wide open to the existence of something which is not there, which they call matter.
Mentalism startles us because our thinking habits are still coloured throughout with materialistic assumptions.
If he himself is a mere nothing who does not exist, who then is it who takes all this trouble to prove it?
He puts onto the body, its brain and sense organs, powers and attributes which belong to the mind. This is his error: this is materialism.
If a man persists in acknowledging his bodily self alone and in denying his spiritual self, he is not to be blamed for that. His experience of life has brought him to this point of utter materialism while his power of metaphysical reflection has not developed enough to carry him beyond it. He is to be pitied therefore, rather than blamed.
If matter were real, or as real as Mind, then the latter could no longer be the only reality. God would then no longer be unique, the One Being that alone is the infinite Mind, but there would be at least another alongside of it and identical in attributes with it. There would be gods, but no God, which is absurd.
They believe that matter has formed by itself its highest product--Man--who in turn has put forth his own highest product in Thought. The next step from this is to proclaim that man's happiness wholly depends upon his environment and not at all upon his inner life.
Most people, even most pious people, are materialists. To them tangible things in a tangible world are the realities.
To Albert Camus, reflecting the decision of the ordinary simple yet articulate man, it is enough merely to say that he can touch the world to conclude that it exists.
Those who uphold the sunless idea that matter is the only thing, as well as those who would insert a ghostlike thing called mind into it, deride the mentalist's position. Yet they would shake their complacency if only they could get unstuck from the limitation and incompleteness of their views.
It is important to note that "matter" has gone out of scientific thought but materialism has not gone out of popular life.
To follow closely an exposition of mentalist metaphysics is to put a great strain upon the attention. After a time, when it finds the solid earth seemingly deserted, it struggles to get away, unable to bear the thin rarefied air in which it finds itself.
That this World, so solid to our touch, so important to our lives, is "such stuff as dreams are made of," in Shakespeare's haunting phrase, is incredible to the ordinary shallow materialist, whether he be of a scientific or a pious mind. But then, we must allow that mentalism, even if true, is a bizarre, a staggering idea.
The world rarely finds reality for it judges mostly by appearances and externals; hence the wide prevalence of materialism, whether it takes an open self-confessed form or a covert religio-hypocritical one.
Half of our puzzling problems follow in the train of our naïve but erroneous belief that matter is itself an ultimate reality.
When we are directly confronted with the logical implications of this mentalistic discovery we are likely to withdraw to safer ground.
It is an extraordinary fact, and perhaps a paradoxical one, that he who states the simple scientific truth that the only objects man knows are mental ones, that is, ideas, is usually considered mad.
Life extends far beyond the narrow domain of this our flesh. Those who deride this truth will live to learn strange and surprising things.
The true picture of a man is to be seen in his mind and heart, not in his body. Yet the world generally believes in, and acts on, the very contrary of this truth.
We are conscious creatures only because our bodies possess brains: without them we would know nothing. Such is the notion implanted in us by those educators who had themselves received it in their turn. Mind did not exist by itself; Soul and spirit were imagined and inconceivable things.
The materialist's mistake is to exaggerate the physical facet of existence and then make a worshipped fetish of it.
Those who are spiritually blind, who have never felt the attraction of any higher forces than those which affect the body's senses, may consider such belief to be fantastic.
Those who have no better concept of consciousness than the usual one regard any other as a curiosity, as unnatural, and not as something which might be worth the trouble of investigating, much less of acquiring.
He is still a materialist, however formally and outwardly religious, who does not believe or perceive the truth of mentalism, does not know that consciousness is apart from brain.
It is difficult for the true adherent of the Quest to get over this hurdle of anti-mentalism, largely because of certain mystical world-views. Without these, a closer accord would be reached. But here, of course, one is up against the difficulties brought about by the contradictory nature of such experiences.
The materialist who says that we humans come from nothing and that if there is an infinite being, a God, he is infinitely indifferent to us, is thinking only of the physical body.
The position of modern science
That the majority of men have been unable in the past to perceive mentalism's truth is fully understandable, even pardonable, if we admit how stubbornly unshakeable is the human sense of material reality. The only successful attack on it hitherto has been that made by actual personal mystical experience--but mystics formed only a minority among men. This is why the mid-twentieth-century discoveries in nuclear physics are so important, for they must lead ultimately to the full vindication of mentalism, as they have already begun to do partially.
The time will come, and cannot be avoided, when both the new and the accumulated facts will force scientists to regard Mind as the real thing they have to deal with, and matter as a group of states of mind. But by that time they will be something more than mere scientists alone; they will be somewhat on the way to becoming philosophical scientists.
The belief that to touch a wooden stick is to touch matter is no longer good science. And it was physics, a science with its feet well on the solid ground, which brought about this striking change in outlook.
In this century the two streams of science and mysticism are converging into mentalism.
When a mystical seer proclaimed on the basis of his own insight that the reality of the universe was not matter but mind, educated people could afford to disregard his proclamations. But when leading scientists themselves proclaimed it on the basis of verifiable facts and rational reflections, they could not help giving their confidence to it. Consequently, those who have seriously absorbed the latest knowledge have been falling away from intellectual materialism. It is indeed only the uneducated, the half-educated, the pseudo-educated, and the word-educated who today believe in this miserable doctrine.
His feet tell him that the ground he walks on is truly there. His four remaining senses tell him something about the other objects around him. All his physical experience confirms the factuality of the world. It is certainly an existent thing. How is it, then, that the Hindus and Chinese have celebrated thinkers who claim that this existence is illusory? Can Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing thus be given a surprisingly different and tremendously larger reference? Were this so, these Oriental dreamers would be most alarming. Surely Western science would not deign to consider them even for a moment? Let us pause and see.
Shankara's Snake-Rope illusion is out of date. Science provides better illustration based on facts of continuous experience instead of exceptional or occasional ones. Indians ignore the fact that a thousand years have travelled on and away since Shankara's time. Human intelligence has probed and discovered much. Modern evidence for mentalism is more solid today. The tremendous advance of knowledge since his time has shown that the substance of which this universe is made turns out to be no substance at all.
Is there some precise universal criterion of truth which will be applicable at all times and under all circumstances, in short, something unchanging and therefore supreme? For scientists know that the great principles which formed landmarks in the history of science were really successive stages on the route towards the precise truth. Science changes, its doctrines change, and its earlier approximations are replaced from time to time by more accurate points. We cannot hope to find an ultimate truth nowadays, when science itself is so rapidly on the march. There remains, however, one unfailing all-embracing fact which will forever remain true and which cannot possibly change. Indeed, every advance in experiment and theory made by enterprising scientists will only help to verify this grand discovery. What is it? It is that the whole world which every department of science is busily engaged in examining is nothing but an idea in the human mind. Physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, biology, and all the other sciences without a single exception are concerned solely with what is ultimately a thought or series of thoughts passing through human consciousness. Here, therefore, we possess a universal law which embraces the entire field in which science is operating. This is an ultimate truth which will stand immortal, when every other hypothesis formulated by science has perished through advancing knowledge.
Let us not be bewitched by Oriental futility and deny what is palpably factual. It does not benefit truth, reason, or experience to deny the world's existence. It does not help the spiritual life to do so. It is a waste of time and an unnecessary cause of bewilderment or confusion to Western students, setting vain problems for them which they need never have had. This does not mean that they should desert the idea of nonduality and fall back into dualism. It means only that they should not repeat, like parrots, what others teach them without having first got a satisfactory understanding of the teaching and tested its truth or falsity. To say that the world does not exist is either a clumsy semantic error or one of those incomplete truths which, unless fitted to its other half, misleads others and leads him into a labyrinthine maze from which he either never gets out or takes years in the process. By deep enough meditation he may get into a half trance which tricks consciousness, so that he wriggles out of his five senses and loses his awareness of what they normally tell him. The world is gone. But is it really lost? For after his meditation he must come back to his senses when the world reappears like a faithful dog. Instead of rejecting its claim to exist, the honest thing is to accept it and make a proper appraisal of it. For the world is a phenomenon: as an appearance it certainly does exist. But it appears in the mind, not in matter. In the decade after the First World War great scientific research was made. Einstein's formulations on relativity are justly praised. Heisenberg's work on the structure of the atom with its ions, electrons, and quantums brought him the Nobel Prize. The most advanced workers in nuclear physics know the mentalist position if they have the willingness to reflect deeply enough upon their observed facts and the mathematical capacity to support this reflection. Few possess both. Most refuse to go so far because they dare not abandon the last remnants of materialism which got so intertwined with science during the past two hundred years that getting rid of them now actually seems unscientific: Einstein deliberately refused even though he had the capacity. Heisenberg accepted but would not publish his acceptance of the truth until now. I believe he will do so before passing away. Professor Carl von Weizsäcker, who worked in both fields--atomic physics and academic philosophy--also perceives the truth about reality but must leave the immense labour of presenting publicly the mathematical formulas involved, to a younger man. The point of all this is that we do not have to swallow the incredible doctrine of the world's non-existence in order to deny its materiality. Science properly demands an explanation of the world. If it pushes this demand to the fullest possible extent, it comes to the same truth as philosophy, even though it be by a different way. The world is what it is, an appearance in the little mind; but behind both is Mind, the great unchangeable reality which transcends all human thought and touch and which alone is, was, and will be.
When Shankaracharya wrote his brilliant texts and commentaries more than one thousand years ago, he was compelled to quote the example (now so well known) of the rope mistaken for a snake. Today we have a better and more convincing example which nuclear physical science has produced by showing that almost invisible energies were being mistaken for solid material substances before the invention of highly subtle, high-magnifying apparatus and instruments which however were unable to omit the investigator's consciousness from the energies discovered.
The bomb, whose shadow darkly threatens the whole planet in our time, is itself the last and latest demonstration that matter is an illusion. The atomic physics which alone made the bomb possible has penetrated to a level where matter has disappeared into radiation. There is no matter there, only radiant energy.
In reducing matter to a mere formula of mathematics, Einstein destroyed materialism through the appeal to intellect. Thus he really brought a spiritual message, even though it was couched in the modern idiom of his time--as another Jew, Jesus, brought a message that destroyed materialism through the appeal to faith nearly two thousand years ago.
It was the keen thought of Gaudapada, with no equipment, which enabled him to set down the truth of non-causality which Planck and Heisenberg have reached in our own day through the use of the last word in laboratories.
Science has begun to establish the fact that the world is really mind; Truth established the fact that the mind is the Self. One of the Upanishads says: "This (universe) is myself, who am all, that is His highest state."
The tremendous implications of mentalism for science and metaphysics, its enormous significance for mysticism and religion will quietly come into prominence before this century closes.
Some scientists are approaching the position that the world is ultimately an idea in the mind of the beholder. What will follow? They must next proceed to the position that an idea has precisely the same value as any mental picture seen in dream and hence must be just as imaginary, which leads to the final position that the idea has no real permanent existence.
The simple notion that the world is just a machine, that God is the mechanic who puts its parts together and that matter is the stuff he began with and used to make these parts, belongs to the primitive levels of scientific thinking. It is for those who are just beginning to form the conception of an orderly universe in their enthusiasm for the early discoveries of science.
Matter is energy, pulsating as waves or formed into knots.
If so-called matter consists of the energy of the electron, whether as wave or particle, where is its existence as solid substance? Quantum physics has so far unveiled the truth about matter.
When there is no weight, no volume, no inertia to be found in the ultimate atom, where is "matter"? It is no longer existent. But was it ever existent? Obviously deep and sustained reflection upon this question could only turn a physicist into a metaphysicist--and that is not permissible! Science must remain science: having started with the dogma that it has nothing to do with metaphysics or religion it ends with it!
"What we know by our senses alone has reality," wrote D'Holbach, the French Encyclopaedist "All is matter and force." He meant that matter was the real thing, and force was what pushed it about to take a variety of forms. But how did he know that matter was there? Was it not his own mind that told him so?
The universe cannot be explained by a few scientific theories, notions, laws, or discoveries. It is unimaginably complex. Even with the help of the most amazing equipment, instruments, apparati, science discovers the merest fraction of the facts about anything in the universe. But even more important is the very limited nature of the physical senses. They seem to report the existence of matter, to give us substance and reality, when what is, is an entirely different level--that of Mind.
The ideas of the scientist combine into an intellectual outlook which increasingly influences the leaders, the teachers, the fighters, and, so far as it filters down--the masses. To the measure that science comes to understand that what it examines or investigates leaves out the unconscious contribution made by the examiner or investigator, to that measure its conclusion is incomplete. Further, that contribution is selective; it can deal with objects only as far as it can penetrate the material of which they are made. There is in consequence something missing from the scientist's knowledge of the universe. It is the philosopher's discovery that this missing element is vitally and fundamentally important.
When he comes to understand on what are really scientific grounds that belief in the materiality of the world is groundless, he may come to a better tolerance of the Quest.
Until lately, the education of medical students, their observation of mental consequences of physical conditions, and the general attitude of recent science led them into materialism and thence to agnosticism. But several factors have begun, or else will shortly begin, a reversal of this process.
A medical scientist declared himself opposed to any association of physiology with psychology. It would only harm both, he believed. He said that no one knows the link between consciousness and matter. This statement is quite reasonable for anyone, materialist or religionist. Only the mentalist can solve the problem.
Matter as an independent principle is non-existent, whether it be physical matter, ethereal matter, astral matter, or something else. All these are merely conceptions.
The book of Sir James Jeans entitled Physics and Philosophy reveals what is the actual case. He concludes, "As we pass from this phenomenal world of space and time to this substratum, we seem, in some way we do not understand, to be passing from materialism to mentalism and so possibly from matter to mind. . . . Modern physics has moved in the direction of mentalism."
Eddington went much farther in acceptance of mentalism than Jeans. He told science quite plainly that no satisfactory explanation of matter can be made without postulating mind.
The geologist, the biologist, and the physicist do not refute mentalism with their evolutionary stories. They only describe some of the ways in which Mind works to throw up its images.
To trace the working of the senses, to explore the problems of knowledge, and to understand the implications of nuclear physics--to do all these things to the fullest possible extent is to come under the compulsion of rejecting the claim of materialism that there is only a material world and that we human beings are only material bodies; that all mental experiences originate in material conditions only is the naïve conception which today only a child may form and hold; all things today point to the truth of mentalism.
It was a younger professor of biology in New Zealand who said in my hearing that recent discoveries by neurobiology in connection with the cell were undermining the materialistic view of it hitherto held and were pointing to something more like consciousness or mentality as its essence.
Matter, as an entity in itself, though so scientifically acceptable at the beginning of the nineteenth century, will be scientifically untenable at the end of the twenty-first century.
Science has long known that matter is able to change into wave-like energy or particle-streamed energy. Philosophy comments that what you see, this world of objects and creatures, is not really what you think it is. It seems still, solid, stable, but all the time it is vibrating with unbelievable speed and we, the observers, with it. Only when we penetrate the calm centre of being do we find the real stability, the true substance.
Those who are too intellectually dishonest and too morally unscrupulous to be willing to accept the deeper implications of the new scientific knowledge because it would so endanger their whole position, are like criminals who do not believe in accepting the law of the land because it is against their interests to do so.
There is nothing in these concepts that is essentially new, but parts of their restatement with the help of modern scientific knowledge inevitably are new.
Science has travelled far towards the mentalist position when, in the person of Niels Bohr, one of its most distinguished researchers, it admits that the human entity is both a spectator and an actor in the world drama.
No scientist knows what matter is in itself.
The last outcome of all scientific research and metaphysical thinking is, and can only be, mentalism.
Mentalism and related doctrines
The metaphysical doctrine called "subjective idealism" is a first step towards truth but not at all the last step. Taken by itself, leaving the universe within man's little finite mind alone as it does, it can even lead to serious misconception and error. Only by putting the world where it originates--in the World-Mind--and then alone bringing man's participating and limiting mind into the scene, can the doctrine be completed and corrected!
Berkeley said there was no object, only the thought of it and the thinking self. Hume said there was no object and no thinker, only the thought. Both men were approaching truth, guided by reason and intuition, but could not clasp it altogether. For only insight could have led them farther.
It is not enough, as the earlier Western Idealists did, to take the physical senses--parts of the body--into relation with the physical objects--the world outside them--and then remove the barrier between the two metaphysically, and thus remove matter itself. It is necessary to advance further, into a positive recognition of Pure Mind-in-Itself, and not merely consider the relations between the senses and their objects.
Berkeley said he could find no Matter. Hume agreed and went further by saying he could also find no Soul or Self. But neither Kant nor Hegel denied the existence of Matter, as Berkeley did, though they did reduce this entire existence to a form of thought.
Hume rightly pointed out that the mind is a mere series of sensations but he wrongly concluded that the series is destitute of any connecting thread. He saw nothing in the world but momentary perceptions, and in perceptions he saw nothing at all. They arose and faded into a void. Thus it might be said of the Scottish thinker that his doctrine was a Nihilistic Idealism and his universe a meaningless one. "Everyone keeps at a distance," he complained. "I have exposed myself to the enmity of all metaphysicians and even theologians; and can I wonder at the insults I must suffer?"
I have tried to study the nature of the mind and to understand its office in knowing. And the end of all my studies brought me to the sequel that I was compelled to testify to Hume's strange statements: "Nothing is ever really present with the mind but its perceptions. . . . We never really advance a step beyond ourselves. . . . Philosophy informs us that everything which appears to the mind is nothing but a perception, and is interrupted and dependent on the mind, whereas the vulgar confound perceptions and objects, and attribute a distinct, continued existence to the very things they feel or see. There is no question of importance whose decision is not comprised in the science of mind; and there is none which can be decided with any certainty before we become acquainted with that."
Whitehead has endorsed mentalism to the extent of admitting, in his work Process and Reality, that "apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, bare nothingness."
Now the realist assigns a greater degree of reality to that world than to its observer, because he says it will be there even when the latter has passed away. The idealist, however, assigns all reality to the observer because the world cannot be known apart from the latter.
"Thought and the object of thought are one and the same."--Parmenides, the earliest Greek mentalist
Kant's analysis of cognition was his supreme achievement. He traced back the true sources of our knowledge.
Plato, on Mentalism: "What a superior being would have as subjective thought, the inferior perceives as objective things."
Kant asked the metaphysicians of his time to cease their wrangling regarding the nature of the universe and the principles of Being until they understood better the nature of our knowing process.
The mentalistic schools of Chinese Buddhism existed only from 600 a.d. to 1100 a.d. They were named the Fa-hsiang and the Wei-shih. The mentalist school of Japanese Buddhism was the Hosso.
Kant as an idealist brought out two sides of idealism: that the world of experience is built up through certain processes, that is, it is a construction; and that the synthetic activity of the mind enables it to see the world as a finished thing. He was correct when he declared the known world to be mentally constructed, but not when he declared that there was an unknown world of things-in-themselves beyond it--unless we give that name to the karmic forces which became transferred into the known world.
Marcus Aurelius: "When thou hast roused thyself from sleep thou hast perceived that they were only dreams which troubled thee. Now in thy waking hours look at these things about thee as thou didst look at thy dreams."
P.B. Shelley, Adonais:
He hath awakened from the dream of life--
'Tis we who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms as unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike out with spirits knife
Malebranche: "We do not perceive the objects which are outside us in themselves. . . . So by this word idea I understand nothing other than that which is the immediate object."
Mind is the one aspect or phase that one knows, in everything that exists. We can know nothing but mind.--Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza
Bradley has pointed out that the knowing self is itself only an idea and in that sense it is not distinct from the Predicate, the known object of thought.
"Are we actually alive in real surroundings or are we really only dreaming? Men, tired out with being fooled, have claimed that nothing is real outside our mind."--Voltaire
Ashtavakra Samhita: "The universe is but a state of the mind." Panchadasi: "The mind is virtually the external world." Mahabharata: "The mind is the essence of all things that are manifest." Taittiriya Upanishad: "From mind (manas) indeed are all entities born." Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: "This great, endless, infinite Reality is but purely mental (Vijnanaghana)." Jivanmukti Viveka: "The whole world is the result of mere mental construction in me."
"I was often unable," Wordsworth says, in the preface to his great "Ode," "to think of external things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I saw as something not apart from, but inherent in, my own immaterial nature. Many times while going to school have I grasped at a wall or tree to recall myself from this abyss of idealism to the reality."
"Only that day dawns to which you are awake."--Thoreau
"The Manifest is Mind; and so too is the Void."--Tilopa, The Vow of Mahamudra
Anaxagoras, the master of Socrates, taught that the real existence of the things perceived by the five senses could not be satisfactorily proved.
Oscar Wilde (in a conversation recorded by Lawrence Housman): "That surely is true philosophy. . . . You are what you are merely because they have made you a subject of thought; if they did not think of you, you would not exist. And who knows? They may be right. For we cannot get behind the appearance of things to the reality. And the terrible reason may be that there is no reality in things apart from their appearances."
Chuang Tzu wrote: "Confucius and you are both dreams; and I who say you are dreams--I am but a dream myself."
"Where are the pleasurable and unpleasurable moments after they are past? They seem to be like a sound, a shadow, a breeze, or a dream."--Su Tung Po
"I behold the world as if a picture," exclaims Sri Shankaracharya in the Siddhantamuktavali.
"Everything I see seems a dream, everything I perceive with the eyes of the body a derision"--Saint Teresa of Spain
William Blake, in his published Letters, reveals mentalist truth on the basis of personal firsthand experience. Blending the clairvoyant seer, the religious mystic, and the gifted artist, as he did, this is only to be expected. "I know," he writes, "that this world of imagination and vision is all one continued vision."
Berkeley used his mentalist discovery to restore the anthropomorphic God to its neglected shrine. His great errors were to introduce this personal deity as the author of man's ideas and to cling to the finite ego without suspecting that it was itself an idea.
We must expect that Roman Catholic metaphysics, following Saint Thomas Aquinas and, through him, Aristotle, accepting the material world's reality, will vigorously oppose mentalism.
"I came to the conclusion that consciousness is an undeniable datum, and therefore pure materialism is impossible. I fought every inch of the way against Idealism in Metaphysic--and that is why I was forced to understand it thoroughly before accepting it."--Bertrand Russell
Bishop Berkeley contributed valuably to these mentalistic teachings, and we of the West should be grateful to him. But there were a few weaknesses in them, which the best Asiatic thinkers immediately detect and consistently avoid. For instance, Berkeley accepted an experience as being true if the idea of it cohered and persisted strongly. Again and again Shankaracharya pointed out that these conditions were also present in powerful illusions.
The European thinkers who worked out the mentalistic basis of life with intellectual thoroughness--although not always with correctness--were German; Kant, Schopenhauer, Hartmann, Hegel, Schiller, and Fichte saw and taught that Mind was the primal reality and that the world was an idea in Mind.
Bishop Berkeley's metaphysical position is not easily classed. For, as the Encyclopaedia Britannica says, "There is some ground for the usual designation of his philosophy as subjective idealism. This interpretation however clashes with his often repeated avowal that he was trying to justify our natural belief that we have direct knowledge of a really corporeal world."
Despite the twisted condition of D.H. Lawrence's inner being he had moments of spiritual clairvoyance, of intellectual perspicuity. That is why he wrote somewhere: "All we know is shadows. Shadows of everything, of the whole world, shadows even of ourselves. We are all spectres. Spectre you are to me, spectre I am to you. Shadows you are even to yourself. And by shadow I mean, idea, concept, the abstracted reality, the ego."
It is an item of side interest that Berkeley's wife was a follower of Madame de Guyon, the French lady who, though not a nun, taught the practice of meditation and whose movement spread under the name of "Quietism." Mrs. Berkeley was a devout, earnest mystic who took herself very seriously and was very intent on self-improvement. In a few of the blank pages left by her famous husband, at the end of a rough draft of Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, she wrote, after she was widowed: "Who are you that you should fear man that is a worm of a day like yourself? Fear him only who will reward or punish you as you behave. . . . Let not imaginary goods as fame or riches charm you, the want of them, if you do, will distress you." Her use of the word imaginary is amusing, in view of her late husband's mentalistic doctrine.
Extract from the editor's (N. Rama Rao's) brief biographical introduction to the collected Speeches of His Highness the late Yuvaraja of Mysore: "Persons conversant with the evolution of his mind noted that he started with a materialist theory of the universe, but as his studies advanced and his thought matured, he came to hold a purely mentalistic conception that the universe is mind-stuff."
The Japanese Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi (774-835 a.d.), in his work Attaining Enlightenment in this Lifetime, wrote: "Differences exist between matter and mind, but in their essential nature they remain the same. Matter is no other than mind."
Bergson said that philosophy must start with the problem of the existence of matter.
Dr. Samuel Johnson's erudition was admirably shown in the original dictionary he compiled, as was his talent for expressing common sense in pithy statements. But his metaphysical naïveté was equally shown when he stamped a foot on the ground in refutation of Berkeley's discovery. The foot's touch gave Johnson a physical sensation. He stopped there, not grasping that the sensation had given him an idea--solidity--and that without this idea his foot would not have felt the ground. He took it for granted that his experience testified to material reality. Science knows now that it was testimony to his sensations only, and the rest was theory and assumption: Berkeley took it as testimony to Idea-lism. But that is only a halfway house to adequate explanation, to Mentalism.
In a letter to H.W. Abbot, Santayana tersely defined what he called "the idealistic dogma" as being: "Knowledge of objects is but a modification of the subject." He then declares "the impossibility of being a thorough-going idealist, because consciousness of any kind implies the existence of something not itself outside of itself."
When, some years ago, I stayed in an ashram in Western India and idly looked through the volumes on its library shelves, I found a highly abridged version of a work called Yoga Vasistha; I realized that I had also found one of those Eastern writings which deserve Western readers too. That version had been made by an Indian scholar long before, had apparently never circulated beyond the Indian shores, and, try as I might, I could not secure another copy to take away with me. I think it had been privately published, but anyway it was out of print. The contents were so interesting that I never forgot the Sanskrit title. Now another and new abridgment is in my hands. Its reading has given me pleasurable hours,, interesting hours and thought-provoking hours. It is a book that should be also in the hands of every mentalist.
When Berkeley says "to be is to be perceived" (he means "by God"), it is equivalent, in philosophy, to "to be is to be known to the World-Mind in the form of World-Idea." But there are subtle yet important differences between the two outlooks. What did Berkeley define as God? Did he rise to the Ultimate Possible Concept, that of Nonduality? Did he understand that there is a distinction to be made between the Absolute Mind and the World-Mind?
Saint Thomas Aquinas' metaphysical outlook is coming more and more to be seen as Neoplatonism, with its mentalistic-mystical doctrine, rather than Aristotelianism, as so many have believed for so long.
That the last play written by Shakespeare was The Tempest is a historic fact which helps to explain why it holds the most mysterious truth--Mentalism.
"Consciousness gives unbeatable testimony to its own existence, but at first, unexamined, we limit that existence to personality. As an ever changing thing it is only Me: examined, inquired into, it becomes `I-I-I,' that is, itself. The `I' is not the `Me'."--Coleridge
". . . as in your own Bosom you bear your Heaven And Earth and all you behold; Tho it appears without, it is within, In your Imagination, of which This World of Mortality is but a Shadow."--William Blake
Denis Diderot, although himself a staunch materialist, had to confess that Idealism "is the most difficult to oppose" [because] "we never get outside ourselves." There was an English lawyer who offered a large financial prize to anyone who could successfully refute the tenets of Idealism. But the prize was never won, because no one was able to provide a satisfactory refutation. Mentalism includes most of Idealism but goes farther and explains more.
Great Greek thinkers discussed whether brain and mind were two separate things or only one. But the greatest of them (such as Plato) knew the mentalist truth.
Objective idealism is based on error. The error is that objects have an existence separate from the idea of them. If this were true, and he formed his idea of the object from the object itself, then it should be asked, "What is it that tells him there is an object outside?" It is the mind which tells this. But the mind can give him only a thought. Therefore the idea which he forms and the object which reveals itself to the mind are both ideas.
Metaphysical idealism could certainly be argued about interminably, especially with the Neorealists. It is, however, just as worthy of consideration by the spiritually minded, and has, in fact, been held by a number of leaders in the mystical field--not merely through intellectual activity, but also through mystical experience.
It would be incorrect to state that the drift of science is away from Berkeley. It is true that Berkeley's view of mentalism was a limited and imperfect one, merely a beginning, in fact. But it was a beginning in the right direction.
Berkeley's clear thinking and clever statement of a noble truth were admirable. But he made one large mistake in formulating his views. This was to split the qualities of external objects into those which the mind contributes and those which belong to the objects in their own right. The fact is that everything, without exception, is derived from mind.
Even as a teenager the American poet Edgar Allan Poe felt something of the Truth and wrote in one of his verses: "Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?"
Kant cleared the way admirably for other metaphysical thinkers by applying the notions of infinity and eternity to time and space, linking all to the human mind. Yet his own thinking was brought to a halt, baffled, and remained incomplete; he had to admit that "the existence of things outside of us must be accepted merely on faith."
"Are not the mountains, waves, and skies, a part of me and my soul as I of them--Is not the love of these deep in my heart?" wrote Byron as he gazed through windows of his hotel at Ouchy near Lausanne.
M.N. Roy: "Some leading scientists say, `One has the idea of a tree, but one can never know whether the tree really exists or not because the content of the idea is the picture of the tree in the retina.' According to them, there is no way of ascertaining the connection between the picture in the retina and the tree supposed to be there at a distance; the latter may just as well be a projection of the idea. How do we know that the tree is the first and the picture on the retina is the second?"
Kant has written somewhere that our perception of the world is "of no more objective reality than a dream."
The materialistic position, that there is nothing in the world but matter, is as utterly devoid of justification as the most baseless theological dogma.--Thomas H. Huxley
In his play The Tempest Shakespeare has given clear expression to mentalism in the context of that famous line, "We are such stuff as dreams are made of."
Ariel: "Idealism has never been convincingly refuted. Bergson is the modern Idealist. All great philosophers have been idealists. Ideas are the only true things. That which is alone known is idea for it is that only which enters consciousness."
Berkeley dispelled the illusion that Matter exists outside of us by showing that the sense-elements, its primary qualities such as extension, form, and so on, and its secondary qualities such as hardness, colour, and so on, are mere modes of feeling, are subjective; that the existence of a hard, coloured, formed substance outside the perceiving mind was an illusion. Berkeley said God awakened these sensorial perceptions in us and the soul perceived them.
"We know that thought is the only reality in this world. . . . Nothing exists except that which is imagined."--Anatole France
Carlyle: "This so solid-seeming world, after all, is but an air-image over Me, the only reality; and nature with its thousandfold productions and destruction, but the reflex of our inward force, the phantasy of our dream."
Although Kant's primary work was to show that we live in a mental representation of the world, he also thought it likely that the world itself was mental too.
The twentieth-century metaphysical movement Neorealism, whose most brilliant exponents have been Bertrand Russell, A.N. Whitehead, and Samuel Alexander, took from materialism the postulate that the universe of our experience is independent of, and is unaffected by, our conscious experience of it. Nevertheless it also took from mentalism some of its epistemological and psychological features. It started out to demolish the mentalist position but in the end it came so perilously near demolishing its own that it has become almost bankrupt.
Yoga Vasistha: "There is a mind behind every particle of dust."
Hume, unlike the Advaitins, did not deny the world's existence, but he did deny that there was enough proof of its externality.
I did not work out the theory of mentalism intellectually until it had first been revealed to me mystically.
Many complained about my presentation of mentalism as being repetitious. Yet without such detailed reasoning and elaborate argument it would have been harder for the Western reader to understand, much more to accept, so unfamiliar a teaching.
A teaching like mentalism which does not agree with commonly accepted ideas must be carefully presented, for its very surprise may cause it to be deemed beyond, or not worth, discussion.
There are so many different points of view from which we can approach one and the same Truth, many different aspects to it. The mentalistic approach which I have emphasized was presented to the public quite deliberately.
The fundamental truth of the principle of mentalism is as clear to me as is the fundamental falsity of materialism.
The deep mystical background of mentalism is mostly a feeling whereas the form in which it has to be expressed is mostly an intellectual one.
The tenets expounded in my book The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga are of a kind which become more understandable as they become more familiar. It is really their intellectual strangeness which accounts largely for their apparent absurdity. And this strangeness itself arises because mentalism was originally discovered through mystical experience and has had to be translated into non-mystical intellectual terms.
To reach the masses with a doctrine as deep as mentalism is no little task, but this I have tried to do.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.