An Analysis of Introspection

Why has our intellect been made introspective? Introspection is not a direct help, either to self-preservation or to the preservation of the species. Organisms other than man, are experts in self-preservation and in the care of their offspring. The fox knows many more tricks to defeat its enemies than a military expert can demonstrate. It is therefore evident that introspection is not essential for the preservation of the individual or of the race.

Memory, and even imagination, can to some extent be explained from the point of view of physiological factors; but is this so with introspection? Even people who are generally extrovertive are occasionally heard to say, ‘Now I want to be alone’; whereas the herd-loving animals are known to dislike solitariness, unless, in some cases, when they are badly wounded. The philosophers who try to explain the human talents and faculties from a purely materialistic point of view, will find it hard to explain the following tendencies:

1 the desire for introspection
2 the love of beauty
3 fellow-feeling
4 the innate desire to establish a relationship with someone perceived as greater than oneself.

It will not be easy to explain these characteristics of human nature even from the sociological point of view. There are evidences of intellect in the lower animals; but it is in human beings alone that we find a desire to transform oneself and one’s environment by the application of intellect. Conscious martyrdom is peculiar to man.

From the point of view of the yogic philosophy, introspection is an attempt to discover the inner world, some fleeting experiences of which are gained by spontaneous imagination and during those flights of fancy called inspiration. The desire to seek light in the company of those we admire is evidence of the desire of the soul to expand by contacting higher personalities. According to the Chinese philosophers of the Chao dynasty, fellow-feeling is an intuitive recognition of the existence of one’s own being in others. Love of beauty also indicates a desire to seek identification in symmetry, harmony, form and colour, grace and deportment, and so forth.

They say human beings are progressive by nature. What is the limit of our progress? Do we progress by discovery and invention? It is doubtful whether progress alone is the purpose of life.

From the point of view of the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, all the above-mentioned faculties find their fulfilment after the realization of the inner and real world, the world of eternal beauty and immutable reality. In the third chapter it is said: ‘The mind is higher than the senses; the intellect is higher than the mind; and He is higher than the intellect’ (verse 42). The range of operation of the senses is very limited; that of the mind is wider; that of the intellect is still wider; but the realm of ultimate reality, the Self of man and the universe, called Atman in the Gita, is infinite.

In the Katha Upanishad it is said that the senses abide in the mind; they are the effects of the mind. The cause of the mind is buddhi, or intellect; the cause of buddhi is the cosmic intelligence. And the cause of all this is the Lord omniscient and omnipresent. In the words of a poet: ‘Whose boldness in the strokes of His brush is the object of complaint in every picture; the glimpses of Whose beauty, unconsciously perceived, turn our minds to His pursuit.’

Introspection implies detachment from the inner and outer environments and one-pointed contemplation of the stream of light passing through the intellect. As logic and scientific investigation are the developed aspects of the crude inquisitiveness of the child, so meditation and intuitive investigation are the scientific ground of introspection.

Through the trained aesthetic faculty, devotion becomes the pursuit of eternal beauty—Atman. Fellow-feeling becomes the basis of the Confucian philosophy of Jen with its ideal of human- heartedness based on unselfish benevolence. This is also the way of karma yoga, the yoga of action. The desire for association with one whom we admire, in its trained and scientific form, becomes devotion to the Lord.

Thus we have tried to explain that the Yoga of Self-knowledge promotes the scientific cultivation of the special human faculties, with a view to lead them to perfection by their absorption into a higher state, which is called samadhi. This is the science of conscious immortality and eternal freedom.

In the culture of China, and also of Japan, it is customary for friends to sit together and gaze in wonder and appreciation at the moon. A philosopher of the later Sung dynasty says: ‘Contemplation of the moon when the breezes are blowing over the surface of the earth is the highest earthly joy.’ In Chinese philosophy, the moon is the symbol of Atman, our real Self—the home of beauty and the abode of bliss.


This article is from the Autumn 2020 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.