VOWELS AND CONSONANTS.
[MIND AND BODY]
"Of letters, the letter A, I am." Gita.
"There is an alliance with matter, with the object or extended world; but the thing allied, the mind proper, had itself no extension and cannot be joined in local union. Now, we have a difficulty in providing any form of language, any familiar analogy, suited to this unique conjunction; in comparison with all ordinary unions, it is a paradox or contradiction." – Bain.
The quotation we give above is from Dr. Bain's remarkable book 'Mind and Body,' and the several chapters comprising the book are worth close study even though we are not bound to accept the learned Doctor's conclusions and share in his hope that the philosophy of the future will be a sort of qualified materialism. The important thing is to get at his facts, as far as they can be arrived at by close observation and experiment and such inference as are warranted by strict logic, which have been most thoroughly sifted and about which therefore there can be no doubt. We will enquire therefore what are the proved facts concerning the nature of mind and body and their characteristics and the nature of their connection so far as they can be ascertained. Now as regards mind, it is analyzed into Feelings (including emotions). Will and Intellect. "These are a trinity in unity; they are characteristic in their several manifestations, yet so dependent among themselves that no one could subsist alone; neither Will nor Intellect could be present in the absence of Feeling; and Feeling manifested in its completeness carries with it the germs of the two others." The ultimate analysis of a Feeling being either a pleasure or a pain, it is seen, however, that volition or thought could not in any sense be confounded with Feeling. What De. Bain however means in the above quotation is that without the acquisition of feelings, no volition or thought could arise first, that feelings are primarily all derived through the sensory organs and centers. And a pleasure is seen to be connected with an activity which tends to promote life (உயிர்க்கிதம் செய்தல்)
and a pain, to destroy life (உயிர்க்கதம் செய்தல்) which determine also in ethics, the nature of right (good) and wrong, Papam and Punyam. This principle is stated as the law of self-conservation. But there is a limit to all pleasures; and even a pleasure may become painful, if only carried to excess. Another law exhibited in feelings, which applies also to thought is what is called the law of relativity, namely that "change of impression is necessary to our bring conscious." Either a feeling or a thought only too long prolonged becomes feeble and feeble till it is blotted out altogether and we are no more conscious of such feeling or thought; and to become conscious again we soon change this train, and then revert. The Tamil philosophers state this principle in the axiom 'நினைப்புண்டேல், மறப்புண்டாம்.' 'If there is thought there is forgetfulness also.' Dr. Bain almost confesses that both on the mental and physical side, the reason for this exhibition of this law is not very explicable. But Hindu philosophers take this fact as showing that man's intelligence
(அறிவு) is weak
(சிற்றறிவு) and it can become stronger and stronger and become all thought by practice (Sadana). In Yogic practice, what comes first is more darkness, oblivion than light but continuing in the same path, there dawns true light in the last resort, and (the nature of the light is so often mistaken in the interval so many shades of it breaking out.) And one volition (இச்சை – Ichcha) determines our actions as impelled by Feeling on Intellect. Intellect is analyzed into a sense of difference and sense of similarity and Retentiveness or Memory. What are called variously as memory, reason, judgment, imagination, conception and others are all resolvable into these three kinds. And difference lies at the very basis of our intellect. No knowledge and no intellectual operation is possible, if there is no difference in the constituent elements, if there is a mere sameness. If there was only one color, the art of painting will be an impossibility, if there was only one sound or tune, music we could never hear. As it is, the law of relativity governs our very being. Sameness could give knowledge, only if there was difference and hence the sense of similarity is also accounted an intellectual function; and a great function it performs in the field of invention. And no high degree of intellectual power is possible if we do not possess the power of remembering one past experience and impressions. And one peculiarity of the human mind, may we call it a defect, may be also noted here, as based on the law of relativity already stated. The mind is not conscious of all the impressions through all the sense organs all at once. A man does not become conscious of a sight, a touch, a sound, or a smell all at once. There must be a transition from one to the other however momentary it might be. And the case of an Ashtavadani is no exception to this. Assisted by a good memory, the more avadanams he performs the more time does he take. It will be noted that in this analysis of mind, no distinction is drawn between a feeling and a consciousness of a feeling, a volition and a consciousness of a volition, a reasoning and the consciousness of reasoning. Both are taken to be identical and therefore needing no distinction. In Hindu philosophy, they are distinguished, and a mere feeling or willing or thinking is separated from consciousness of such functions, and the pure consciousness is taken as the soul or Sat, and the rest classed with body and the world as non-soul or Asat (other than Sat). And we will speak of this distinction more further on. From these mental functions however are contrasted the body and its functions and the so-called external world. This collectively called matter or the non-ego or the object possess certain characteristics and properties which are not found in mind at all, such as breadth and length (order I place, extension hardness and softness (inertia), weight (gravity) color, heat, light, electricity, organized properties chemical properties &c., and the most important of this is extension Matter is extended, mind is unextended. Says Dr. Bain.
"We are in this fix mental states and bodily states are utterly contracted; they cannot be compared, they have nothing in common except the most general of all attributes – degree, order in time; when engaged with one we must be oblivious of all that distinguishes the other. When I am studying a brain and nerve communications, I am engrossed with properties exclusively belonging to the object or material world, I am unable at that moment (except by very rapid transitions or alterations) to conceive a truly mental consciousness. Our mental experience, our feelings and thought have no extension. No place, no form or outline, no mechanical division of parts; and we are incapable of attending to anything mental until we shut off the view of all that Walking in the country in spring, our mind is occupied with the foliage, the bloom, and the grassy meads – all purely objective thing. We are suddenly and strongly arrested by the odor of the May-blossom; we give way for a moment to the sensation of sweetness; for that moment the objective regards cease; we think of nothing extended; we are in a state where extension has no footing; there is to us place no longer. Such states are of short duration, mere fits, glimpses; they are constantly shifted and alternated with object states, and while they last and have their full lower, we are in a different world; the material world is blotted out, eclipsed, for the instant unthinkable. These subject-movements are studied to advantage in bursts of intense pleasure or intense pain, in fit of engrossed reflection, especially reflection on mental facts; but they are seldom sustained in purity, beyond a very short interval; we are constantly returning to the object side of things – to the world whose basis is extension and place."
However widely these may differ, there is this remarkable fact about them that they are round united together in a sentient being – man or animal. And the exact correlation, correspondence or concomitance in these two sets of phenomena is what Dr. Bain takes very great trouble to show in several chapters. This we need not deny as Dr. Bain fully admits that this conjunction and correspondence do not warrant us in stating that mind causes body or body causes mind; but his position is that mind-body causes mind-body. There is a duality in the very final resort and ultimate analysis but a disembodied mind cannot be thought of and he uses various expressions such as, an 'undivided twin' a 'double faced unity,' 'one substance with two sets of properties.' &c. And we don't see why Dr. Bain should ally himself with materialists if he is not going to call this one substance not as matter altogether but as only matter-mind or mind-matter; unless it be that he is unable to prove himself the existence of mind except in conjunction with an organized body. This latter circumstance again causes no difficulty to the Siddhanti who postulates 'முத்தியிலும் மும்முதலுண்டு,' 'Even in Mukti, none of the three padarthas are destroyed,' and who no more believes in a disembodied mind than Dr. Bain, unless a body or an organism be taken to be the body composed of all the 25 lower, tatwas. From the table given in No. 10, of the first volume of this magazine, it will be seen that even the most spiritual beings have a body composed of Asudda or Sudda Maya and we have also remarked, cautioning against the common mistake of calling matter dead, that these higher aspects of matter are so potent and active as to be often mistaken for God Himself. Passing from this point however, we now come to the question as to the nature of the union between this mind and body. And when we talk of union, the suggestion that it is union in place that is most predominant. And Dr. Bain lays great stress on the fact that such a local conjunction is not to be thought of, is impossible. There can be no union in place between an unextended thing (as Chit) and an extended thing (as Achit) and all such expressions external and internal, container and contained are also misleading and mischievous. The connection is not a causal connection. It is wrong to call such conjunction as one acting on the other, or as one using the other as an instrument. (The theory of occasional causes and of pre-established harmony are also antiquated now. The phenomenon is a most unique one in nature; there is no single similar conjunction in nature, so that we may compare it by analogy and there is no fitting language to express such conjunction either. The only adequate expression to a subject one is a change of state. Language fails, analogy fails, to explain this union though in itself a fact; and it remains a mystery in a sense, though to seek an explanation for an ultimate fact can in no sense be logical; and all that we can do has been done when we have tried to generalize the various sets of phenomena into the fewest possible number and if we cannot pass to a higher generalization than two, we can only rest and be thankful.
We are sure that this is a perfectly safe position to hold and our object in penning this article is in no way to differ from this view; only we fancy, we have an analogy in Tamil, which will exactly answer the point and make the union more intelligible, besides bringing out the nature of mind and matter, in a much more favorable light, than from the stand point of mere materialist, qualified or otherwise; and we fancy we have been almost every day using language to describe this union, though the name in itself is a puzzle, and embodies both a paradox and a contradiction. Before we state them however we will state one or two facts so far as they bear upon the relation of mind and matter, and which Dr. Bain states more fully in his Mental Science. It is that all objectivity implies the subject-mind at the same time." Unless the mind is present, though unconscious, you cannot have object knowledge at all. We cannot have a pure objective it as it were, though for the time being, it is non-apparent, is entirely blotted out. (Sunyam) Or rather shall we say, though dissimilar the mind has become thoroughly identified with matter. But mind can ascend to pure subjectivity and it does not imply the presence of objects, as the object does the subject; and in such a pure subjective state, where is the object? It has become also non-apparent (Sunyam). Regarding the possibility however of matter being the primary element, there is the fact, matter is found both as organic and inorganic, and what a world of difference is there between these conditions of matter? Is the peculiar organization given to it by the presence for the time being of mind in it or is it derived solely by its inherent power. We have admitted that the so-called dead matter might possess potentialities without number. Still is there any sort of similarity between the inorganic properties exhibited by matter and the organic or vital properties. However this be, we will now proceed to state our analogy. It is the analogy of vowels and consonants. We have quoted the Gita verse, but we look in vain even in Sankara's commentary for the meaning we have tried to give it. Possibly Sankara would not give such an explanation as it would conflict with his preconceived theory. So if there was truth in it, it remained locked and the key altogether remained with the Siddhanta writers. The most familiar example of the analogy occurs in the sacred Kural, in the very first verse of it.
"As 'A' is the first of all letters,
So the ancient Bagavan is the first in this world."
We might fancy an alphabet, in which the letter "A" is not the first, and if the point of comparison is merely to denote God's order in place as the first so many other analogies might be thought of. And Parimelalagar accordingly notes that the order is not order in place but order in its origin. It is the most primary and first sound that the human voice can utter, and it is also the one sound which is present in every other sound vowel or consonant. All other vowels are formed by modifications of this sound. And what are vowels and consonants pray? A vowel is defined as a sound that can be pronounced of itself, without the aid of any other sound. And a consonant is one which cannot be sounded except with the aid of the vowel. Let us look more carefully into the nature of these sounds. We every day utter these sounds, and yet we fail to recognize the mystery in their connection, solely on account of their familiarity. We try to utter 'A'. It comes pure and simple, by the mere opening of the mouth, without any modification whatever, and requires no other aid. But let us pronounce say 'K'. It is 'Ke' in English, in Tamil it is 'Ka' or 'Ik.' There is a vowel sound present in it, 'e' 'o' 'a' 'i'.' Let us eliminate this vowel sound and try to pronounce the consonant. Well, the task is impossible, you don't get any consonant sound at all. In the consonant therefore there is always a vowel sound present, though we never consciously recognize its presence, though in Tamil, the symbolism is so highly philosophical that we invariably mark its presence even when we write purely consonants. We dot all our consonants as 'க்,' 'ச்,' & c. and the dot or circle represents in Hindu symbolism the letter 'அ.' This dot or circle begins almost every one of the twelve vowels in the Tamil alphabet, and as to what the other curved and horizontal and perpendicular lines mean we will take another opportunity to explain. When we write 'I' therefore, the framers of the alphabet meant to represent how the vowel sound underlies the consonant and supports it and gives it its very being and existence. Such a mark is unnecessary when we write the vowel consonant 'ka' 'க' as we are fully aware of its presence. In the pure consonant therefore the vowel is implied and understood though for the time being its presence is not detected and it is completely identified with the consonant itself. We have been considering at learned length the nature of the union between mind and body but have we ever paused to consider the nature of the union of the vowel and consonant? Is there any such unique conjunction anywhere else in nature, where one subsists not, except in conjunction with the other. Except the inseparable conjunction, as above stated we see that the consonant (pure) is no more derived from the vowel than the vowel from the consonant. There is much wider contrast between these than between any two things in the world. The place of origin is distinct. 'A' is pronounced by the mere opening of the mouth. The tongue has to be brought in contact with the palate to pronounce 'k' and this same act cannot produce the vowel. So the vowel cannot be said to cause the consonant, nor the consonant the vowel. Nor can we call the consonant and the connection themselves as false and as a mere illusion or delusion. So neither the principle of Parinama nor Vivartana can apply to this connection. All that we can say of it is that they are so connected and inseparable and that no language can be possible, by vowels alone nor by consonants alone, and every consonant is at the same time a vowel-consonant, in which the vowel is apparent or non-apparent, and though we can conceive of the vowels standing alone, to think of consonants as existing by itself is an utter impossibility. Now apply all this to the case of mind and body. Mind is the vowel, and the body (matter) is the consonant. Mind and body are as widely contrasted as vowel and consonants are. One cannot be derived from the other by Parinama or Vivartana. Yet both are inseparably united and though the mind occupies an independent position, can be pure subject at times, the body cannot subsist unless it be in conjunction with mind. Mind is always implied in body; mind underlies it, supports it and sustains it, (if all this language derived from material cognition is permissible). When the mind is pure mind, the body is not, it is asat (Sunyam). When it is pure body, mind is present but non-apparent, it has become one with the body. The mind is there but it conceals its very self, its very identity and it is as good as absent. And except at rare intervals, our whole existence is passed in pure objectivity, without recognizing the presence of the true self, the mind. The whole truth of these two analogous, cases, the only two, are brought out in Tamil in the most beautiful manner by the same words being used to denote vowel and consonant as also mind and body. See what a light bursts when we name 'உயிர்,'
(உடல்). The word 'உயிர்' mean both a vowel and mind (soul); and 'மெய்' both body and consonant. Dr. Bain observes that the sense of similarity is the sense of invention and true discovery. The greatest discoveries in science have been made by catching such resemblances at rare intervals. And when the very first Tamil man called his vowels and consonants 'உயிர்,'
'மெய்' was he not a born philosopher and had he not comprehended the true nature of the union between mind and body and vowels and consonants. The simile receives its best exposition for the first time in the hands of Saint Meikanda Deva, (vide Sivagnanabotham, II. 1.b. and notes pp. 12, 19 and 20), and his followers and his followers (vide Light of Grace pp. 7 and 8); and Saint Meikandan gives a name in the same verse for denoting this connection. This one word is Adwaitha. This word has been a real puzzle to many; and so many renderings of it has been given. The Tamil Philosopher, however, explains it as meaning
"ஒன்றாகாமல், இரண்டாகாமல், ஒன்றுமிரண்டு மின்றாகாமல்," (neither one nor two nor either), and which fully and beautifully brings out, therefore the meaning of Dr. Bain's words that the connection is both a paradox and a contradiction. Very few outside the circle of Siddhanta school could be made is to comprehend the truth of this paradox, more so when their mind is prepossessed with the truth of their own views. But we have always used the analogy of vowels and consonants with very great effect, and it has tended to make the subject much clearer than many a more learned argument. We have confined ourselves in this article to deal with the last two sets of phenomena in nature, mind and matter and we will reserve to a future article, the nature of the Higher powers, we postulate and their connection with the lower ones; and a further amplification of the subject, together with the history of the question in Indian systems of thought.