I was talking in the last program about getting rid of ghosts. And showing to what an extent, the so-called problems of life [are] the result of asking the wrong questions. And after all, getting mixed up and spending an enormous amount of effort. In trying to solve riddles that have no answer. Now you know, in Indian philosophy, whether it be Hindu or whether it be Buddhist. There is apparently a great life problem. And that is the problem of how the individual is to be released from what is called karma, k-a-r-m-a. Strictly speaking, the word karma in Sanskrit simply means action or activity. But. In popular Indian conception it has a more specific meaning than that. And it means something like our Western idea of causality. As the Buddha put it once this arises that becomes. And although I don’t think he meant this statement in a causal sense nevertheless. When you look at how the ordinary people of India understand karma. It works out in practice as being a law of retribution. That is to say, if you are in good circumstances in this life, it must be attributed to good things you have done in times past. It in bad circumstances to bad things and so the individual has a conception, a kind of explanation of his lot in life by referring it to past causes. And so he believes, that when he can so act and so think. That he stops generating karma. He stops doing action that looks for a result. He’ll be liberated. He won’t have to be born into this world or other worlds again and again and again and again in the endless repetitious cycle which is called. Samsara the round of births and deaths. And so. The ostensible objective. Of the way of life. Of Vedanta, or yoga or Buddhism, is to stop this process going on.
Now, most interpreters of this philosophy whether they be Westerners or Asians, take this objective in a very literal sense. They understand that by doing all these complex spiritual exercises somehow the reality of being subject to karma and being reborn again and again and again is actually altered. But, I feel that something rather different happens in fact. And that is quite simply, that the individual comes to see, that this whole conception of karma, of cause and effect in other words governing his behavior and reincarnation is an imaginary and thus false conception. And I think for this reason, there is a considerable parallel between a way of liberation and some of the effects of Western science. After all, you must realize that people living in the ancient culture of India felt that this theory of the world, this cosmology, was real fact. In other words, they didn’t choose it as a belief out of a multiplicity of different beliefs it was say completely in the atmosphere just in the same way a certain things a perfect common sense for us. And it would be very difficult for them to think otherwise. I was talking in the last program about. How we at one time thought that the planets were moved by reason of being encased in crystal spheres. And at one time, nobody questioned this everybody thought so or everybody thought that the earth was flat. They knew it was.
And so for people for whom these conceptions are realities it’s an extraordinarily difficult undertaking to get free of them. But I think that the liberation of man from this particular cosmology is parallel to the way for example in which. The state of scientific knowledge as it is today makes the cosmology of say Dante, extremely implausible. I mean nobody has disproved it nobody has shown positive evidence that there is no God on a golden throne that there are no angels and that there isn’t a simple destiny of man in the afterlife of a choice between Heaven Purgatory and hell. And so on. Nobody has brought out any evidence that this isn’t true. But of course you must remember, that one of the characteristics of all of what we might call metaphysical propositions is that the person who proposes them can never suggest what evidence could be offered to show that they weren’t true. In other words, if you ask somebody who believes in the sea a stick God. What sort of things would show you that this wasn’t so. You’ll find you can’t think of any. I mean after all if God came and told him that God doesn’t exist this wouldn’t be evidence that God doesn’t exist. And that’s about the only sort of evidence you could imagine.
And so in the same way, a group of psychoanalysts was asked a little while ago what evidence would you accept as proving that there is no such thing as the tipis complex and they couldn’t think of any. So one always has to be rather suspicious of ideas propositions therians for which there could be no contrary evidence. So what in effect has happened is that the scientific description of the universe as we have it today makes that kind of explanation of it an implausible sort of explanation. It just somehow doesn’t fit, not the quantitative scale of the World As We Know It, but even the qualitative scale. And therefore it is simply dropped away. And it hasn’t only dropped away for very many intelligent people because it seems implausible but also because it seems unnecessary he doesn’t really seem to explain what it claims to explain. And therefore you see, to a degree, the world view of science has liberated many people in the western world from a cosmology in which they thought they were trapped. In which they thought they were hopelessly or pleasantly involved. And in just the same way then, the mental discipline of Buddhism, or Vedanta or yoga is likewise a way of seeing through. And realizing the shall we say fictional nature. Of the cosmology of ancient India.
Now as I said, this cosmology involved the conception of karma. And this in a way. Is crucial to it. Karma. I write it down again. From the Sanskrit root Akri, to do. And as I said Strictly speaking it means your doing. And thus in a way there are two senses of interpret it you might say there is the unreal sense of looking upon it as a law of cause and effect. Or a profound sense in which you interpret it as action. And when you say thus arises, This arises that becomes to quote the Buddha. You may take it to mean because this happened it is it follows It is therefore necessary that something else happens. But on the other hand, you may take that in quite a different sense. Instead of being a kind of chronological cause and effect one thing starting up another as for example when you arrange a row of bricks and they’re all standing on end and. You push one down and then as a consequence all the others fall down. Not like that. But rather in the sense, this arises that becomes, of certain things go together. Like yes and no, figure and ground and all these various illustrations which I’ve used to show the principle of relationship or mutuality.
But let’s think for a while about cause and effect and the idea that there is a kind of necessity in nature. I was talking also last time about the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and there is a passage in which he says there is no necessity in nature for one thing to happen because another has happened there is only logical necessity. And this again is one of these things that startles common sense. These ghosts who see the ghosts say of necessity of causal necessity is very very in firmly firmly entrenched in our thinking and when somebody suggests that it isn’t really so, it’s quite a shock. And so, it’s worth examining this conception rather closely. And see if we can lay the ghost of necessity.
First of all let’s consider a few ordinary causal ideas. We say that any living creature must, of necessity, have food. And if it does not it will of necessity die. And here we seem to have a perfectly clear case of cause and effect. But if we look closely into what actually goes on. We shall find something rather different. What are we really saying when we say that any living creature needs food. Well first of all. A living creature is of course constantly absorbing or assimilating food. And when we say that for example does your food agree with you? Does the climate agree with you? This is really saying. Are you consistent with your environment. Do you go together. If you do go together with your environment of course you are there as we say you exist if you don’t go together with your environment if you are not consistent with it you are not there. It’s a simple as that. Now when we say, you see, there’s an organism needs food. Of course, this is only to say that it is food. Because what happens you see when anything eats. Is that it transforms as much of the environment as is consistent with its own pattern into that pattern and what isn’t consistent it either doesn’t eat or it eliminates it. And so, what we call an organism is a constant transformation of food. Would into the pattern of the organism. And of course you could say describing it more elaborately this is the transformation of the pattern of the food into the pattern of the organism.
And so, the moment that the organism stops, all this process of transformation stops the organism isn’t there and so long as it is eating it is still becoming food food is still transforming into it and this is what it means to say that it exists. Now of course, we are also likely to say oh this organism eats because it is hungry. Now I wonder what we’re saying that. Is hunger something as it was some kind of power that moves the organism to look for food. I think again if we examine this carefully what we’re saying is. That an animal eats because it is hungry what we’re really saying is that it eats when it’s ready to eat. And hunger is the initial stage of eating, it is a way of perceiving readiness to eat. And then again, when we say it dies because there is no food. If you look into this carefully what you are actually saying is. That when food is not in the environment and therefore is no longer being transformed into the pattern of the organism then that pattern isn’t there anymore. It dies.
But, you see what is happening here. All we are doing when we say because is that we are describing what is actually happening more carefully. In other words, the organism dies because there is no more food. If we simply say instead of this word because we simply say. The organisms death is the cessation of food being transformed into its pattern. You see, we’ve eliminated the word because. And this is actually what we’re doing all the time when we explain things. We’re not really describing their cause is. That seems to be what we’re doing when we don’t know the full nature of the event but what we’re really doing is we’re describing the event that puzzles us more completely. It seems to be a description of causes if we say say death is one event. And not having enough food to eat is another event if we split the two events in the first place then, it will seem that one event causes the other. But it’s much simpler to say that all we’re doing is we’re describing the event called Death more carefully. And this makes it more intelligible. Because you see, while we separate events and say that one is the cause and the other is the effect it’s always difficult to show exactly how. No the cause turns into the effect. We had the same difficulty. In trying to show how mines all spirits influence matter. If they were to substances a completely different order how does one work upon the other. And we found in other words, that what appeared to be an explanation wasn’t really an explanation at all. If you ascribe, in other words, the intelligent activity of a human being which he manifests in such physical things as his action and his speech if you were scribe this to some altogether different kind of into your substance called a mind well how does it effect it. And this is a puzzle nobody was ever able to answer in just the same thing because when you want to know how a cause brings about an effect you have introduced a gap here, thinking that you were explaining something and as a matter of fact you have made the situation more puzzling than it was in the first place.
And so too, when we take such simple problems as what we call gravity I suspect this is another ghost. When we say, when I let go of a stone it falls to the ground that’s a perfectly straightforward simple description of the situation but then if we add to that and say the stone falls to the ground because I let it go. Now let us imagine what evidence is there for causality here. Let’s see what evidence could we bring against it. Supposing, in other words, the world a situation were to arise in which I let go of the stone and it didn’t fall to the ground it went up in the air instead. I think that if this happened, we should say that what I had had in my hand was not a rock but a balloon. Because you see it is part of the definition of rocks that when unsupported they fall to the ground things that don’t behave that way aren’t rocks. And so when we say that a released rock must fall to the ground, this is because that sort of behavior is part of what we mean by a rock. So the must in there, is not as a matter of fact something in nature it is something in the dictionary in the book of definitions. Because the objects that behave that way are so defined.
Take another illustration. The sun flower. Now the sun flower is so arranged that when the sun apparently moves across the sky, it keeps its face following it. And that is what it does. And now let’s say a sunflower must turn its face to the sun. In this case, what we’re really doing is saying that it turns its face to the sun is part of the definition of a sunflower. If the sunflower didn’t turn its face to the sun it would be behaving like say a tool it. Or some plant that doesn’t behave this way in the same way if it. Didn’t turn its face to the Sun It might also say have Blue Leaves and this would make it in other words a different kind of flower which would have a different sort of definition. And so in this way. We manage to relieve ourselves of the fixed idea that there are such things as natural necessities that in other words nature is being pushed around by something that events are being pushed around by other events and that there is therefore this whole picture of what we call causal determinism. Wittgenstein also produces a rather interesting idea to explain, why there is not natural necessity and there is logical necessity which is a variation of an idea that I have sometimes explained in other ways. You remember that in discussing the idea the Indian idea of Maya, I have very frequently used the illustration of making sense out of natural formations by superimposing upon them a grid or grill. After all we think of the Newtonian grill say, or the three dimensions of space and the linear dimension of time and these are what constitute the coordinates what we call the coordinates the three coordinates of space and one coordinate of time now of course we know very well that the holes of space isn’t full of rods or lines arranged to be a height and depth and. And so on there isn’t such a thing as the process of time going on and on and on there are clocks indeed. And when we say we time things we are comparing their behavior with talks All right so we have the. Events of life whatever therefore may be and then by superimposing the grill over them we may have as Wittgenstein points out, a mesh grill whose pattern is simply of squares like square paper in an arithmetic book or we could have some other pattern they could be circular or they could be triangular and any pattern will do so long as there are regular. And then you see, we are able to describe what we have seen through this pattern, in terms of the regularity of the patent. And so actually what we are describing when we describe natural laws when we describe causality or any kind of logical necessity, we are describing the regularities of the patent. And not regularities that our inherent in the structure of nature.
And so, it’s important in a way to keep these things distinct. And not to confuse one with the other. And the confusion of the two, is in a way another of these ghosts I’ve been talking about. So, however, the human being elaborates patterns of this. Time. Language, for example, is an elaborate pattern with certain kinds of regularity and it. Just in the same way to our fingernails and our teeth. And our organs of digestion, and are also a kind of grid. And they’re constantly as it were sorting out what is in the world in order to assimilate them to us and in the same way our words our language ideas are patterns which sort out the world. And we assimilate the world to these patterns so you take the idea of a triangle is probably nothing in nature which is a triangle perfectly Euclidean triangle but a triangle is a sort of approximation to things we can translate things that are probably approximately triangular into triangles. This is about we’re doing. Converting nature into our pattern.