Unless mentioned specifically, ideas mean mundane or logico-deductive ideas. When ideas emanate from within or are spiritual they are understood as Ideas. Ideas as understood by the Western philosophers viz. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are in many respects close to but not the same as understood in the East. According to Radhakrishnan and Sri Aurobindo Ideals are truths that have not yet been materialized in our life. They represent the reality of a higher plane. Usually, we are subject to outer facts which leave their impressions on our receptive mind, but cannot rise to higher planes because we limit our view to the environing conditions without moving forward in thought; we circle around them. The medium we can use to rise to that level is the Idea that is intimately related to Ideals which we not only possess, but rather cherish to have them. In fact, we develop Ideas from Ideals as Ideals work as the guiding star in our spiritual journey. Therefore the Real, the Idea and the phenomenon is the true order of our existence. We can group ideas into mundane/phenomenal ideas and subjective ideas or Ideas which originate from within. In each case, an idea is the first starting point of action, and action is its result which leads to certain type of experience. In fact, we live through our actions, we exist through our actions. Idea, action and experience constitute a unitary process which moves along an ever ascending spiral, but the problem arises when it moves around a fixed circle. The movement from idea to action results in an experience the quality of which depends on the role we play in that movement. In the first case, we are subject to mundane ideas which are often affected by external conditions. We cannot then rise above the external facts and accept them without trying to go beyond them, although we can be their master. The order of things is then just reverse to that mentioned above. Ideas do represent a force but they exist only in our mind until they are manifested in our actions. Plato talks about universal, non-phenomenal ideas which are different from the world ordinary experiences. He also talks about time-transcending/eternal ideas which we bring with us from previous life. From among the Western philosophers Plato is perhaps the greatest idealist philosopher whose concept of idea is very close to its Eastern interpretation of Idea in the sense that ideas are primary and facts secondary.
Majority of the Eastern philosophers also support the view that Ideas are primary and facts secondary. Sri Aurobindo, for example, writes: “the Idea is not the reflection of the external fact which it so much exceeds. Similarly Radhakrishnan writes: If it is true that facts dominate life, it is equally true that facts themselves obey the force of mind or Idea… “We do not so much hold the idea of the Real as the idea holds us i.e. idea cannot exist without its perceiver or without its subject, but the Idea does not reveal itself easily, but we can intuit it, and “intuition tells us that the Idea is not merely an idea but a fact” – Radhskridhnan. We call the Idea implied above holistic or idealistic because the human intellect has not yet been able to realize the truth of Idea through external facts of life.
Mundane ideas are easier to understand as they are supported by the external facts. They are personal and egoistic and often run counter to the demands of the society, but the case is different in the case of Ideas. Knowing before acting is the solution, but this is not possible when we are subject to an incessant stream of thought because we then become possessed by them rather us possessing them. What we are then depends on whether we are governed by mundane thoughts governed by anger, jealousy, hate etc; by our past memories, culture and social and even family background or ideas that are governed by Ideals. The first and the most important turning point from idea to Idea comes through the wisdom of knowledge or knowledge-will that can illuminate the way ahead. Here knowledge means the knowledge of the Truth, and will means the freedom of will, the power of the Truth that can control and eliminate the determinism of Nature. Knowledge-Will is both originative and creative force that leads to transition from subjection to mastery over Nature. Ideas or better Ideals precede actions but action does not take a concrete form unless we exert Will. Human evolution continues through the cyclic evolution of Ideas and actions.
A mundane idea connotes a tangible mental force in the form of powerful thoughts. Once the powerful thoughts of the mundane ideas are there, there is no stopping of thinking the thoughts. Once they control our mind, we easily become the victim of our compulsive thoughts, emotions and reactive mind-patterns. These are often habitual and unconscious, and we may not know what we are doing. This is the nature of the unconscious mind, but the unconscious mind does not know itself. We are unaware of all this, and mistake the thinker to be who we are i.e. we identify ourselves with mundane ideas, and this is the basic feature of the egoistic mind, - the ‘me’ mind, the ‘me’ idea. This ‘me’ idea is the major factor that creates the division between ‘you’ and ‘the other’ and makes you least interested in humanity or in the oneness of Life. The unconscious “me” mind, the egoistic mind usually has negative effect on our life, and the only way out is to be aware of it. Once we become aware of it, it just vanishes. Mind can produce ideas about God, but can an idea describe God? Can religion substitute God? Ideas, in themselves, do not explain God, but through them we can create an image of God, but that image is just a concept but a concept limits the God. For example, Kant’s the thing-in-itself is just a philosophical concept. Many Western philosophers including Kant think that the thing-in-itself is unknowable.
So Kant’s the thing-in-itself exists only in ideas that necessarily are the outcome of thoughts. In fact, this has been the major point of departure between the Eastern and the Western philosophers. However, one of the remarkable observations that Kant made is that the concept of the thing-in-itself is a-priori. This indirectly indicates the supremacy of Ideals over ideas. His concept of a priori idea is quite close to what it means in the East, but the thing-in-itself remains forever unknown unknowable. Although the thing-in-itself can be apperceived by thought, it cannot be known through logical idea because it is different from Idea. The idea is mundane in the first case, but Idea originates from its own inherent Creative Force. In order to fully understand the scope of idea and Idea it is necessary to refer at least to Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Schopenhauer but this is not the objective of this chapter.
Mundane ideas are often governed by our way of living, and include ethical, social and other preferred ideas i.e. ideas conditioned by interests, needs, prejudices, traditions etc. But preferred ideas are necessarily partial, egoistic and incomplete, and so cannot reveal the whole truth. The problem is that we identify ourselves with them, and cannot use them constructively. Bu once we become aware of the limitations of the egoistic/mundane ideas we become free of them, and may then rise from idea to Idea, to universal, non-phenomenal ideas which are different from the world of ordinary experiences. Idea has its source in the Ideal, and Ideal works as the guiding star in our spiritual journey.
When we deal with Ideas it is the power behind them that is important. We act by virtue of an idea and the power behind that idea, but the question is: are we the subject or the object of the power of ideas? When properly utilized, the power of ideas can lead to rapid improvement of human life, but when ideas lead us, this power may lead to our total destruction. When we are led by our mundane ideas we tend to be limited by ideas without judging whether the associated power is destructive or does it relate us to our inner being or our spiritual development? In the first case, it is materialistic and materialism may overtake us. Mundane ideas are related to “me”, but the “me” always wants more and more while the proper relation should be the relation between “me” and the Reality. The unitary process involving ideas, actions and experience then depends on the cause and effect relationship. We are then imprisoned by our mundane ideas which separate us from our inner most being, and keep us tied down to the sensual experience of the world.
When ideas emanate from our inner self, they are creative and connote much deeper meaning. If we can conceive of an all-encompassing Subject, we can also conceive of an all-powerful Idea; the all-powerful subjective Idea. Ideas then become spiritual Ideas or an all-encompassing Creative Force. But the Creative Force or the Idea becomes a spiritual force only when we realize it in our everyday life. Therefore, the Idea by itself is not the ultimate Reality as Reality far exceeds what an Idea can envisage. “The Idea is not the reflection of the external fact which it so much exceeds; rather the fact is only a partial reflection of the Idea which has created it”-Sri Auobindo. Ideals and idealists are necessary not only for the spiritual transformation of individuals, but also for the integrated transformation of humanity. While Ideals are saviour and sap of life, idealists are the most powerful diviners of its purpose. Their integration occurs when creativity enters into the domain of intellect that we start looking inwards away from the external facts, from the phenomenal world and understand the full scope of Idea. Until then “the Real, the Idea and the phenomenon is the correct order in which these three must be placed”- Sri Aurobindo. We can know the Reality through the integration of Ideals and Idealists or though the integration of Creation and Creator. It is only then that we start to develop our own ideas that have values. Creativity then can transform our life in the positive direction because God resides in creativity. In fact, Creativity is a link between the logico-deductive ideas, and the spiritual ideas when creativity borders with spirituality; when we become the owner of Idea Ideas are then spiritual.
It is perhaps appropriate here to discuss in some detail about the unitary process of ideas, actions and experiences and their phenomenology. Ideas lead to actions and actions to experiences/facts of life. Ordinarily i.e. when the actions are carried out with an end in view, ideas develop as a result of thought process, these lead to actions which lead to certain types of experience/facts of life. The actor is involved in all these stages and the process goes on through several rounds. However, this process goes on without ever satisfying the expectations of the actor so long as they are mundane ideas. The important point is that actions must be made without an end in view. It is possible when Ideas emanate from the inner source i.e. when they are not bound to go all through the ordinary unitary thought process of ideas, actions and experiences because the seeker can then transcend the law of causality. The order of spiritual revelation or spiritual illumination: is Real, Idea and phenomenal world.
Ideas whether mundane or spiritual constitute the starting point of our spiritual journey although further journey will depend on whether we become possessed by mundane ideas which consist of incessant stream of thought or whether we possess them consciously. The two cases represent quite opposite things. Of course, the scope of an idea is very wide and can encompass concepts and percepts related to such diverse fields of knowledge as philosophy, psychology, arts, ethics etc., but so long as idea is mundane/mental, it is only an intermediary idea, an instrument for our action; it is not the action itself. There is a difference between the contact with reality and an idea about it. Ideas do proclaim something but do not prove it. They point towards the Ideal but do not touch the Ideal. But when Ideas and Ideals work together we leave the ordinary ideas behind, and Ideas lead to what we call reality. Therefore generally speaking, ideas in themselves remain ineffective so long as we continue to live in the strength of mental ideas and do not act. Ideas may prompt us to satisfy our vital or physical needs or elevate us towards spiritual achievements. One may have heard “ideas that shook the world”. For Nietzche ideas are “dynamite”. But an idea remains only a potential power unless it is self-revealed or actualized as a real power when we express it through our inner and outward actions.
Since ideas can better be understood and assimilated by subjective approach, the depth and breadth of an idea will vary depending on the personal capacity of a person. It all depends on whether the idea constitutes a component of the unitary process involving idea, action and experience when action is carried out with an end in view or whether Ideas emanate from its source, and actions are carried without an end in view. In the first case, life is a conditioned existence or a constant struggle with no light at the end of the tunnel as we cannot survive without actions which we do to fulfill our ever increasing demands. In the second case, when actions are carried out without an end in view, we do act but actions are selfless and there is no conflict between the actor and the actions. The Ideas and Ideals merge together and lead us out of the one directional unitary process involving actor, actions and experiences. This is being; this is liberation.