Doctrines of Sri Chaitanya III

November 1929

THE Absolute communicates Himself to man through the organ of hearing by appearing in this phenomenal world in the form of the transcendental word (sound) on the tongue of the spiritual teacher. The Word is the Supreme Person or Godhead Himself. The spiritual teachers confirm and explain themselves and the revealed scriptures. Godhead is always appearing in this world through the medium of the spiritual teachers, His sincere devotees, who form the eternal series of communicants of the living Truth, embodying in their lives the mode of receiving and transmitting the same by unconditional but fully rational submission to the devotees of God. There is no break in the chain of spiritual transmission. Neither is there any other way of realising the Absolute except by forming a link of this eternal spiritual community.

The personal factor is decisive. The method of oral communication is equally indispensable. The latter is part and parcel of the former. It may of course be plausibly urged that there are other modes of personal communication besides the vocal. The deaf and dumb have been enabled to hold communion with their fellows and with normal persons. This has been possible through the progress of science. The indispensable nature of oral communication has also been gravely discounted by the discovery and improvement of the methods of writing and studying books. Even sounds need no longer be communicated by the mouth or even to the ear. These momentous discoveries have made the excusive method of oral communication, apparently dear to the hearts of the Brahman pundits of India for effectively ensuring their personal monopoly of all knowledge, a thing of the past. Why should not these modern processes be extended to the acceptance and communication of the Absolute?

The reply is that these methods may be applied only in a subsidiary way. As a matter of fact the senses themselves can neither receive nor communicate the Absolute. We are all of us not only deaf and dumb but devoid of every other means of perceiving the Absolute. What we receive by means of our ears and communicate by means of our tongues, being not the Absolute or being something within the jurisdiction of our senses, lends itself for communication to the deaf and dumb also by means of improvised ears and improvised tongues assisted by the other senses. The deaf and dumb directly perceive the phenomenal world through sight, touch and smell. The ear and the tongue can be made to learn a series of sounds to fall into line with these percepts. It would have been impossible for the deaf and dumb to understand anything in the way we do if they had been without any senses at all or had possessed only abnormal senses. The processes of sensuous perception and conception may be described as piecemeal apprehension of subjects that appear to the senses as constituted of different and separately conceivable and perceivable properties. Unless the object chooses to break itself up it cannot be grasped by the senses. The principle of limitation which underlies all this is the result of the incapacity of our present senses for perceiving fully and continuously. The deaf and dumb, if left to themselves, would still be in a position to perceive and conceive objects and communicate with others with the help of the other senses which are intact, supplementing the stunted powers of their organs of hearing and speaking. The organs of vocalisation and of hearing of the so-called deaf and dumb are not altogether quiescent; otherwise it would have been beyond the power of science to help them in any way.

So we need not suppose that in regard to receiving and communicating the Absolute the case of the deaf and dumb either proves or disproves the feasibility of such communication and reception by means of the other organs of sense. In realising the Absolute the complete apprehension of the object perceived or conceived is necessary. In spiritual perception the senses needs must function in an altogether different way. In this matter there is no necessity of inter dependence or collaboration among the senses as in the case of sensuous activities directed to phenomena.

Of all the organs of sense the ear alone is capable of receiving the fullest perceptual as well as conceptual knowledge regarding any object. The ear alone of all the senses can perceive a thing that is separated from it by the barriers of space and time. The methods of study and of other mechanical processes by means of light, electricity and magnetism, help to extend the function of the ear, but do not supplant it. In every case sound received by the ear remains the point of ultimate reference. The stark, deaf and dumb could never have developed nor understood the method of written communication. Pictorial writing seems to be receivable by the eye alone. But if pictures are only seen one can have no knowledge beyond the actual visual percept. Pictorial writing unless it tries to express spoken language is useless for conveying any but ocular information of the object represented. Such information can be only either new, i.e. unintelligible. or a revival of a previous occular experience. The ear is in no way restricted in the capacity and range of power of receiving information and is thus better fitted than other senses to be the recipient of the Absolute.

The relation of the sound to the object, the knowledge regarding which it communicates to the ear, is not wholly of the nature of a medium as the theories of symbolisation and association want to make it out to be. It is generally supposed by these that the sound communicates only itself directly and is perfectly free from all other implications which in the form of language it acquires by extraneous convention. In other words it is held that the sound directly conveys hardly any knowledge of the object from which it proceeds. This peculiarity is supposed to belong only to perception by the ear and not to perception by any of the other sense-organs which are on the contrary regarded as being capable of receiving the direct knowledge of the object perceived by them. Thus the nose is supposed to be able to perceive directly smell which is one of the properties of the object viz. the nose. But the sound in the form of the articulated word ‘rose’ conveys to the ear no such direct knowledge of any of the properties of the rose. It can convey any knowledge of the object only by conventional arrangement. One who does not understand the English language cannot obtain any knowledge of the rose by hearing the word.

The theory we are trying to set forth in this paper denies all these. It holds that the sound ‘rose’ also communicates directly, and not by so called association or convention, the knowledge of properties inherent in the flower in the way which is analogous to that by which ‘odour’ communicates the knowledge of a quality of the object. It is true that the ear cannot smell in the same way as the nose can. But neither can the nose hear at all, no, not even by convention or association. If the odoriferous perception is communicable to sound why is not auricular perception, communicable to odour and be apprehensible by the nose in the way similar to that by which odour is perceived by ear? If it be contended that the ‘odour’ also ‘calls up’ the percept corresponding to the ‘sound’ ‘rose’ by the law of association a little reflection should enable us to see that the two are not really analogous. In the first place the ‘odour’ can proceed only from the object which is the possessor of the quality. The linguistic sound that puts us into touch with an object need not proceed from itself. The vocal organ is the source of the sound. Sound in the form of language is also capable of conveying the knowledge of every shade of perception possible to every one of the sense-organs including itself. All this and much more elevate and differentiate the vocal organ and the ear, the generating and receiving apparatus of linguistic communication, above all other organs of sense both as regards the range as well as quality in the acquisition and promulgation of knowledge.

The sound appearing elsewhere than on the tongue does not possess the living quality of the latter which is due to the organic connection of the former with the will and the senses of the speaker. Neither can language be received and understood ultimately by any contrivance save the ear. In writing and reading the functions of the hand and the eye are derivative and an extension of the original functions of the vocal and auricular organs, being entirely dependent on the latter for their cognitive quality. The hand can write and the eye can read only language formulated by the vocal organ to the ear. The hand and the eye would have no such functions to perform but for the tongue and the ear. In other words language or spoken sound becomes also perceptible to the eye and the muscles. But in this case also it is only sound, and not odour, touch or colour, that can form the stuff of reading and writing.

If the sense-organs have to be classified in the order of excellence with reference to the quality and range of their specific powers in their bearing on knowledge that classification should always accord the position of honour to the vocal organ and the ear which form a complementary pair for the purpose. The ear receives the message which is communicated by the tongue in the form of spoken sound which appears on the tongue and then appears to the ear.

The sound that is producible by the vibrations of the air of our mundane atmosphere is thus seen to be of the first importance for the maintenance and progress of our progressive rational existence. The atmospheric sound is a limited and temporary entity. The knowledge regarding any object which it conveys to the ear is and can only be limited and temporary, and comes to us as an entity that possesses an existence which is independent of and separate from the object itself. This knowledge is thus both imcomplete and perishable. It is also always misleading and subject to correction. The transcendental sound is free from all these defects, being identical with the object the knowledge of which is communicated by it. In other words the transcendental sound is really that form of the object itself which reveals itself to the ear. The mundane sound is not self-communicative. It only appears to be so. It is necessary to learn the mundane language to understand the import of the mundane sound. The transcendental sound appears on the tongue of its own accord and itself communicates its own full meaning, which is real, unchangeable and imperishable being identical with the object itself, to the ear that submits to be enlightened by the self-sufficing sound. The transcendental sound is by its nature supersensuous but is eternally manifesting itself in this world in a form perceptible by the ear on the tongues of its devotees. The only, but indispensable condition of its spontaneous appearance to the ear is that of submissive listening, the method of such listening being also part of the communication. In proportion as submissive listening is perfected the transcendental sound tends to manifest itself first to the ear, and from there on the tongue, of its devotee. Its appearance on the tongue is the fulfilment and proof of the complete realisation of the Absolute.

[ To be continued ]