What is “Higher Reasoning“?
A friend sent a question:
What meaning do you give to “Higher Reasoning”? I believe it started with Atmananda Krishna Menon.
Higher Reasoning is an essential part of the total integration of awakening. Higher reason or transcendental reason simply means reasoning applied towards discovery or uncovery of reality, rather than appearances (the noumenal rather than the phenomenal*), and that is in harmony with one's true nature. This is done by exercising it in examining the mind and its objects, with a view to discover what is substantive, real and eternal, in the ultimate or absolute sense, not the material sense.
Physical science employs reason in the discovery of how things behave in the realm of appearances, the phenomenal. This instrumental reason is also highly functional as a tool for functional living at the "gross" level.
(By way of contrast, in the world of spirituality, anti-reason – and anti-thought, anti-intellectual – "spiritual" pronouncements, such as one hears from yoga practitioners, New Agers etc, as well as some psychedelic proponents– though not all of them – are common, and will dismiss or attack thinking, philosophy and "words", since they think reason, logic and thinking are in contradiction to, and veiling the Self**, though they may admit the "mind" is useful as a tool in material living. Indeed, the mind tools are weaponized against other mind tools: reason and critical thinking).
Critical thinking is also is essential for the lover of truth, the aspirant to knowing reality, oneself, or "Self Realization" (not to be associated with the religious movement of that name. We are talking about the science of Self here, not beliefs).
There is a real sense in which that what is revealed by "higher reason" must correspond to a reality that that reason points to, just as when a new planet is discovered mathematically via logic, reason and math because of the perturbation of other planets, that reasoning is borne out and fulfilled in the harmony with actual observation in perception of the planet, via telescopes and spacecraft. Likewise, higher reasoning is fulfilled by the empirical experience of illumination in a glimpse or profound moment of realization, or simply an insight into the certain truth of something beyond doubt. In addition, the insights or "aha" moment, and the certainty behind logic and reason is based in this same stable nature that is the ground of truth (as well as beauty and love).
The key importance of philosophical discrimination, between for example, the Self and not-Self, the changeable and the permanent, the illusory and the Real, or mind and Consciousness, is well recognized by all the sages and and wisdom lineages with a more "jnana" tendency, especially Shankara and certain schools of Buddhism. The Christian gnostic tradition on the other hand seemed to lean more towards feeling and will.
In the context of spiritual teachings, a prime example of higher reasoning can be found in the Advaita Vedanta tradition. Although not directly involving Atmananda Krishna Menon, the conversation between the sage Ashtavakra and King Janaka in the Ashtavakra Gita serves as a valuable illustration. This ancient Sanskrit text delves deep into non-dualism and higher reasoning, guiding seekers on their path towards self-realization and spiritual liberation.
In this dialogue, King Janaka seeks spiritual wisdom from Ashtavakra, who enlightens him on the nature of the Self and the ultimate reality. Ashtavakra employs higher reasoning to help King Janaka look beyond the illusion of the material world and recognize his innate nature as pure consciousness. The conversation demonstrates the profound use of higher reasoning in spiritual teachings, aiding students in discerning the substantive and absolute nature of reality, beyond the material and phenomenal realms.
In essence, the Ashtavakra Gita's dialogue between Ashtavakra and King Janaka showcases how spiritual teachers effectively employ higher reasoning, including the inner logic of ethics that are harmony with Life and universal intelligence, and to guide students towards a deeper understanding of their true nature and ultimate spiritual liberation. Here is a short extract from near the beginning:
Ashtavakra (the teacher) says:
"1.4: If you are seeking liberation, my dearest one, shun the objects of the senses like poison and cultivate tolerance, sincerity, compassion, contentment, and truthfulness as the antidote.
1.5: You do not consist of any of the elements — earth, water, fire, air, or even ether. To be liberated, know yourself as consisting of consciousness, the witness of these."
The entire text can be read here.
In any case, it is a fundamental mistake to think that the mystic insight or revelation or the "glimpse" is about something that is fundamentally antithetical to reason and logic; that what the Self or Reality or universal intelligence or Consciousness is, is anti-anything! It "says Yes to everything", as one of my teachers put it. To put it in theistic language, God is quite amenable to being both unnameable, as Lao Tzu pointed out (The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao), and allowing its subject to use reason and logic to discriminate between the true and the false, or see what makes sense or doesn't, in whatever realms. It is only the presumptuous human who thinks they are above or beyond such use of beautiful and powerful tools and brains. And it's not the same as saying "It's all included", as one "spiritual" friend said, to imply there is no truth (except the one she wanted for herself).
This use of reason and logic, this discrimination, includes carving away any false sense of identity or false beliefs, on the way towards non-dual realization. Thus there is a reason it's called "non-duality", and not "Oneness"! – seeing the false and fake for what it is, so the true can be revealed in all its Self-evident glory, shorn of clothing. Otherwise, consciousness, or the absolute, or whatever you point to, will be objectified. The objects must be dissolved, so to speak, to know the non-objective nature of reality.
When all doubt is removed, then no doubt will remain, in that illumination. Why should we denigrate the illumination provided by reason, or even daily instantaneous insights into worldly matters or problems, as inferior or not connected or as in contradiction to any other true Light? Intuition and the various forms of direct knowledge are key, and absolutely essential, to a true and not merely mental understanding, a mere repetition of what was heard (hearsay) from teachers or others. It is all of the same Source, the One, the True, the Beautiful and the Good (or Love), all valid aspects, as many mystics and philosophers have recognized.
Is it any coincidence that Nazism for example, or religious cults, or certain sales techniques, or certain politicians and religious leaders and their ways of thinking, are more about attacking reason, or banning it, or using illogical and false arguments, and violence towards mind, reason and bodies, than are more gentle traditions such as Buddhist schools of philosophy for example?**
You will notice that the same folk that are of the ant-thinking persuasion, do not have a stable or sensible teaching when they speak or write it, such that the only way to "understand" it – and this is sometimes said explicitly – is to stop thinking, stop trying to understand, and shoot down what what one thinks and what others say. There is not much in the way of calm and extended reasoning or leading students carefully and patiently along a path of reason towards a clarity of an open field. They would rather kick you there. They also have a tendency, I have observed, toward believing in all kinds of pseudoscience theories and products, conspiracy theories, special powers, fascist political ideas, entities (UFOs, aliens, whatnot, despite lack of good evidence) which to me is in alignment with the anti-reason outlook.
In short, higher reasoning can unite us in vision rather than separate us into irrational cults and clans relying on “feelings” or shifting thoughts (while denying and attacking thoughts and beliefs ) but it unites us in the freedom of individual realization with a superior and reliable basis rather than obedience to assumptions that haven’t been thoroughly checked out within. Thus there is some justification for calling it a “science of realization”.
Anti-reason also does not have the inherent stability that an alignment with logic does. However, the logic of Atmananda is not just the "excluded middle" logic of Western science, Aristotle and the like, but includes the "higher logic", that is able to resolve the paradoxes — apparent contradiction that are not really contradictions at deeper level — of what you could call mystic insight, knowledge of the Self, or Realization. We could be call it the logic of real Happiness.
The jnana tendency harmonizes reason and logic with the Self, rather than denying them. Higher reasoning is an essential, key aspect of the total integration of awakening.
*To use language many spiritual teachers co-opted, though I don't necessarily agree with it, since it's not what Immanuel Kant intended when he adopted "noumenal" and "phenomenal" from the scholastics. Kant meant that the (in some sense self-existing or independent) objective world, behind the appearances that science studies, can never be known "in itself", and is the noumenal. All that we know is via our mental apparatus, and that "reason" has limits that need to be critically examined (thus his most famous work, The Critique of Pure Reason. But this is a technical philosophy topic best left for later).
**There can also be with the anti-reason believers, a belief and desire to "kill the ego", such as with drugs or meditation techniques, which is a similar mistake of mixing the absolute and relative, either with respect to the tools of reason and logic in the first case, which are seen as alien and a barrier – an objective process that is associated with a presumed pre-existing self of some type that is not specified – or the "ego" sense of self which is seen as an enemy, associated again with a presumed pre-existing self (a response could be, "how many minds have you?", as Ramana Maharshi quipped!). It's a confusion of levels of description you could say.
Atmananda Krishna Menon
63. THE LIMITATIONS OF THE ACCEPTED PATHS (26)
In our search for Truth, beginning with an examination of the world before us, we use as our instrument the faculty of reason. This reason can well be divided into two. One is lower reason, which is exercised by the mind in examining the mutual relationship of objects, from intellect down to the gross world. The other is higher reason or transcendental reason, which is exercised in examining the mind and its objects – gross or subtle – with a view to discover their real content.
There are usually three accepted paths to the Truth. They are the paths of devotion, yoga and jnyana. Of these three, devotion and yoga deal only with relative things falling within the sphere of the mind and sense organs, taking into consideration only experiences in the waking state. Their findings, therefore, can only be partial and incomplete.
The jnyana path looks from a broader perspective and comprehends within its scope both yoga and devotion. It takes into consideration the whole of life’s experiences comprised in the three states – viewed impartially. It demands a high degree of real devotion, in the sense that the aspirant has to have a high degree of earnestness and sincerity to get to the Truth. This is real devotion, to Truth; and it is infinitely superior to devotion to anything else, which can only be less than the Truth.
The yogin controls, sharpens and expands the mind to its maximum possibilities, attaining samadhi and powers (or siddhis) on the way. But in the case of those who follow the jnyana path, the mind is analysed impartially and minutely; and proved to be nothing other than pure Consciousness itself, beyond which there is no further power or possibility of development.
So it is through jnyana alone that Truth can be visualized, while yoga and devotion only prepare the ground for it.
(from "Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda", p. 23)
111. THE CONTROLLING PRINCIPLE (74)
Every perception by itself is invariably governed and corrected by the relatively higher faculty called buddhi (lower reason). This buddhi is in its turn controlled and corrected by another faculty called higher reason (or vidya-vritti) , which is well beyond the mind. This is Consciousness itself, appearing to be functioning.
We are usually slow to accept the existence of this faculty, as it is usually con- founded with the lower reason itself, their workings being apparently similar.
(from "Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda", p. 44)
114. THE SAME WORLD VIEWED BY SCIENCE AND BY VEDANTA (77)
Scientists, depending upon the lower reason alone, examined the world and came to the great objective generalization ‘matter’, and enunciated the law of the indestructibility of matter. There they were stranded, finding no means to transcend it; for the
instrument utilized was itself only part of the generic mind. Sometime later, science went a step further and admitted that matter was composed of atoms. The nucleus of this atom, scientists admit now, is energy which is the source of matter. But here again they are stuck in the mind’s realm of relativity.
It is at this point that Vedanta comes to their rescue and takes them higher still. Vedanta first proves to them that the world and its objects – both gross and subtle, including the instrument they have so far been using, viz. the ‘lower reason’, for examining the world – are all objective, and that they have to be examined again exhaustively. For this they are shown a new organon or faculty in themselves, called higher reason or vidya-vritti, which though beyond the mind has sway over the whole world of the mind and the senses.
From this new stand, they are shown that matter and energy cannot be manifested or exist even for a moment without the help of Consciousness, and that Consciousness is the background of both matter and energy. These are only two different states, so far as objects are concerned. They are the manifestations of the same reality: ‘Consciousness’. Thus Vedanta establishes the Truth that the whole objective world is nothing but Consciousness.
(from "Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda", p. 45)
123. SOME SAY THEY ARE ABLE TO GRASP THE TRUTH INTELLECTUALLY, BUT ARE NOT ABLE TO FEEL IT. (86)
This only means they have been attempting the impossible and have naturally failed. Because Truth transcends the senses, mind and intellect. It can never be brought down to the level of the mind, to be thought, felt or grasped by the intellect. If it were grasped at all, it would never be by the intellect, but by the higher reason alone.
(from "Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda", p. 47)
124. APPARENT ACTIVITIES THAT ARE REALLY EXPRESSIONS OF THE ABSOLUTE (87)
Sometimes when you see a sprightly baby, you feel an instantaneous pleasure. Imme- diately you take it in your hands, throw it into the air, catch it, embrace it, kiss it and fondle it, even to the extent of irritating it and making it cry by the pricks of your sharp beard. All this is not to enjoy pleasure. You had that pleasure even at the first sight of the baby. Then what was all this for?
The lower reason can never explain it. Here, the higher reason comes to your help and says that the gush of pleasure you first had was your real nature of happiness itself, and that the rest of the activities were only expressions of the same ['celebration'] – sometimes not exactly in tune with the lower logic and reason.
This is an instance of action without any incentive behind it. These activities are activities of Happiness itself.
(from "Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda", p. 48)
132. VIDYA-VRITTI AND MIND (95)
Vidya-vritti, functioning consciousness, higher reason, higher logic and shuddha-sattva all denote the same faculty (if faculty it may be called).
Even in worldly enjoyment, it is your own real nature of peace that you experience as Happiness. For example, you enjoy Happiness listening to sweet music. Here music helps you only to empty your mind of all thoughts other than music, and finally it is emptied of the thought of music also. Thus the mind ceases to be and you come to Happiness, and that is your real nature.
It is wrong to believe that the happiness came from the hearing of music, because music was not there when the happiness was enjoyed.
(from "Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda", p. 50)
Lower logic is divided into inductive and deductive. Both of them concern themselves only with objects assumed to be existing, and deal with evidence and facts distinct and separate one from the other.
But when the very existence of the world – gross as well as subtle – is disputed and has to be proved, neither of these approaches helps us. Because here, the ‘I’-principle or subjective Awareness is the only thing admitted to be existing. Here, it is the higher logic alone that can help us in the proper manner. Lower logic can never do it.
To the ordinary man, the only evidence available regarding the existence of the world is the evidence offered by the five sense organs. It is ‘evidence’ that is taken up here, and examined to show that it does not prove the world at all. But it proves only sense perceptions, or the senses themselves. In other words, the evidence proves nothing but the evidence. Therefore, it is no evidence at all, as far as the fact to be proved is concerned.
If you assert that the world exists, it is your burden to prove that it does. The opponent has only to deny it, until the existence is proved beyond doubt. Ultimately, even if you give up all argument and say ‘I know the world and so it must exist’, that also cannot hold good, because you cannot know any object except through one of the sense organs. When this is so, it proves again that it is that sense perception or sense alone that is known, and not the object nor the world.
(from "Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda", p. 75)
249. REASON – LOWER AND HIGHER (212)
Lower reason: Silently makes reference only to your own [personal] experiences.
Higher reason: Makes a silent reference only to the very being in you, and the endorsement comes spontaneously from within.
(from "Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda", p. 87)