Our pursuit of knowledge sets us on the path of exploration of ‘You and I’. The first question that often occupies our mind is ‘Who am I?’ followed by another question ‘How am ‘I’ related to ‘you’?’ This ‘you’ is certainly not specific to any individual, but to all others that we think is other than the self, be it other beings, the Universe or the God. Therefore to know the ‘self’ and ‘all other than the self’ becomes our very quest. The Vedanta is all about this quest of knowledge. It is an exploration of the Atman (Self) in relation to Paramatman (Supreme Self). It is an exploration of ‘our’ life herein and hereafter.
The science rules that there must be a cause behind an effect. The Universe came into effect because of a big bang; human beings came into being because of the evolution of life. In his treatise Physics, Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) argued that everything that happens is caused by something else. So if you get wet because of a rain pour, what caused the rain? Obviously a combination of excessive moisture in the air and cold temperatures — but what caused the humidity? What caused the temperature drop? The questions can go on and on — everything that causes something is in turn caused by something else. We can trace this chain of causes back as far as we want, but Aristotle thought that eventually we reach a first cause that just was — causing but itself uncaused. He called it the ‘Prime Mover’. It is amazing to think that almost five centuries before Aristotle the learned seers of Vedanta had arrived at the same conclusion.
What has been termed as the ‘Prime Mover’ by Aristotle was referred to as ‘the Cause behind all causes’ in the Vedanta. Definitely not all occurrences can be interpreted in terms of cause and effect – it is just impossible to determine if the hen came into being first or was it the egg to arrive first? None of us can say with certainty, which of it is the cause and which of it is the effect? However hard we may think, the question remains unsolved. Therefore one is forced to accept the presence of the Prime Cause – the Cause behind all causes! Without even naming it, Vedanta refers to it as Tat (That). According to Vedanta, That is the Eye of our eyes; the Ear of our ears; and the Mind of our mind; because neither the eyes can see all by itself, or the ears can hear by itself; nor the mind can think on its own. For want of an identity, we started calling That the Ishwara, or the God, or the Allah.
Fact of the matter is that the Ishwara till date remains unseen. The reference to God as That has special significance. Grammatically, we refer to something which is away from us as that, whereas something that is near to us is referred to as this. In Vedanta, Tat (That) signifies something which is beyond our perception, and Etat (This) signifies something which is perceivable.
We perceive anything through our five senses. Now we can neither see That, nor hear or touch That. That also remains beyond our taste and smell. We can see a person and can also hear and touch it. With our limited power to smell, we can hardly smell it, but a dog can still smell it with distinction. We can smell a flower and also see and touch it, but we cannot hear it and thus believe that it does not have sound. Men can think, whereas others cannot. Even all men cannot see, hear, smell, feel or think alike. Thus in a way our perception is restrained by our senses. Wouldn’t we be a different person if we could have the power to see as that of a hawk, the power to smell as that of a bear, the power to hear as that of a cat, the power to feel through touch as that of a snake, the power to taste as that of a catfish, and the power of mind or the brain as developed as that of Einstein.
It all sounds utopian, but it allows us to think that our perception would certainly be improved if we had such enhanced capabilities. Could we then perceive That? It is indeed difficult to say. This is because even with its most developed vision a hawk would have its limitations; even with its most developed hearing power a cat would have its limitations; even with its most developed smelling power a bear would have its limitations; even with its most developed touch organs a snake would have its limitations; even with its most developed taste buds a catfish would have its limitation; and even with a brain as developed as that of Einstein we would still be bound.
Science does not believe in the existence of anything that cannot be perceived. So it is an end of the matter with respect to God for science. The journey of philosophy begins from where the journey of science terminates. It still tries to perceive which remains imperceptible. Taking the standpoint of science further that every effect has a cause behind it, philosophy tries to explore that Prime Cause, which may not have a cause for its own existence, in other words, which is self-existing. It still may be an imagination, but what it takes to imagine! Perhaps if our senses were not limited, we could have perceived That. The Vedanta claims that we can indeed develop our senses so as to perceive That. This can be done by Sadhana or meditation.
For us it took million of years to evolve from lowest species to human beings. Aided by the Mother Nature our journey has been from imperfection towards perfection. We may still be far from perfect, but the journey continues. Even if we were to leave this process of evolution in the hands of Mother Nature, we shall definitely be an improved being in course of time. But then it would again take million of years for us to evolve into a perfect being. Thankfully, we can now be the agents of evolution for our own self. Aided by the biological process of the nature we would take million of years to evolve into a perfect being, but aided by our own psycho-social potentials we may take far less time to achieve this. The quest for truth is same as the quest for perfection. Thus, it would not be incorrect to imagine that we can indeed develop our senses to perceive That.