Did You Say “Obvious”?

Spirituality is a difficult thing to define, for in its conception the word encompasses more meaning than any dictionary might entitle it to. As for the “obviousness” of things, I will point out the meaning of the word “obvious” and use it in forming some idea of what philosophy is and how spirituality and philosophy are intricately interwoven in some sense.

To begin with, what do you understand by the word “obvious”? What is obvious to you and what isn’t? Can you define the word obvious comprehensively? Is the “obvious” really obvious? To take an example, 2+2 =4 might be obvious to me; would it, however, be obvious to a kid who hasn’t yet started counting numbers much less developed the ability to add numbers? ‘Obviously’ not. Note this usage of the word ‘obviously’. What prompts this ‘obviously not’ conclusion? It is the assumption (true or otherwise) that the kid “hasn’t yet started counting numbers much less developed the ability to add numbers”. And it is my supposition (based on observation of kids) that kids who haven’t learnt counting and adding numbers cannot ‘understand’ that 2+2=4. The point is: what does one mean when one says one “understands” something?

In my opinion, an “understanding” is that which ensues as a culmination of a series of steps in stating the “obvious” that follows from some fundamental (and reasonable or, maybe, defining) assumption(s). What this means is that you begin with some fundamental assumption (an axiom, so to speak), the truth of which you have directly experienced (or assumed, to construct a formal structure for ‘understanding’) and you are therefore convinced of its truth value; then, given this truth, you realise that it explains some other truth that follows from it and if this explanation is simple enough (somewhat subjective as that phrase is) you consider the second truth to be an “obvious” corollary to the first (fundamental) truth.

Obviousness, therefore, is a function of our consciousness. The more conscious you are of the existence of truths that follow from a given truth, the more obvious these truths are to you. Depending on your level of consciousness you see certain things as obvious and certain others as ‘not so obvious’. What is hidden from someone else might be visible to you and what is hidden from you might be visible to the other person. The moment you realize how a ‘not so obvious’ fact is quite ‘obvious’,you’ve had a consciousness raising experience. You become more conscious of the truth that exists. This is something quite like lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is a consciousness raising exercise. An example that struck me quite some time back should suffice:

Someone has noted: IMPOSSIBLE = I’M POSSIBLE, which might be taken to mean “The impossible is possible”. Now that’s a problem statement: it sounds absurd as it contradicts itself. How on earth can something that is impossible be possible, for, if it were so why in the first place would you call it impossible? Its very nomenclature disqualifies it from being possible. On the contrary, if it is to make any sense, this statement seems to imply that “there’s always a possibility of finding things impossible”.

I’d rather put it this way:

The impossible is impossible.

i.e. it is never possible to find anything impossible for the only thing

impossible is “impossible” itself.

Now you might wonder how “obviousness” relates to philosophy and spirituality. It does, for philosophy (in some sense) is nothing but “an exercise in stating the obvious”. What might be obvious to the philosopher might not be as obvious to someone too busy to think. And it takes a lot of time and effort to make this transition from the ‘not so obvious’ to the ‘obvious’. If philosophy is an exercise in stating the obvious, spirituality is “an exercise in realizing the obvious”. In this context, therefore, spirituality precedes philosophy. You can only state the obvious once you have realized it, not otherwise. So, if you think you’re a philosopher, you’re (in some sense) ‘obviously’ spiritual.

Spirituality, therefore, is an inside process. Philosophy is an interactive process in which the individual makes an effort to impart some of the “obviousness” he has realized to those for whom the ‘obvious’ is ‘not so obvious’. Spirituality is an exercise in raising the consciousness within. Philosophy is an exercise in raising the consciousness without. Ah, how so very obvious it is! No?

Ravi Kunjwal


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