1. Let us retain the translation of ‘Anu’ as ‘appropriate’ or ‘apt’. Let us emphasize the active dimension of the word ‘Bhava’ to translate it as ‘coming into existence’. (‘Existence’ and ‘being’ are also acceptable translations of the word ‘Bhava’.) Then ‘Anubhava’ would mean an apt way of coming-into-existence. The problem here is this: we can ask the question, coming into existence of what? Of course, we can answer it easily by using hyphenation: it is not the coming-into-existence of any ‘thing’ but coming-into ‘existence’. However, this might create more confusion than it solves. So, let us make a compromise here for the sake of clarity: coming-into-existence-of-being. We can also shorten it as coming-into-being, where we understand ‘being’ as ‘origin’. We come into existence, we originate. In this sense, ‘Anubhava’ talks about “an appropriate originating”. (This is all heavy-duty philosophy stuff, this is what ‘ontology’ is, the ‘doctrine of being’.) As long as we keep these ideas in mind, we can say that ‘bhava’ can be translated also as ‘being-there-in the world’, or as ‘being present in the world’. Thus, ‘anubhava’, or experience, is ‘being appropriately present in the world’ or ‘being aptly present in the world’.
2. The ‘anu’, as it is used in the above formulation, does not use a standard to judge what is ‘apt’ or ‘appropriate’. Any and every way of being present in the world is an apt way of being present in the world for that creature whose ‘being’ is talked about. If we keep to this usage, then we have to say that all creatures have ‘anubhava’ because every creature that ‘lives’ also exists and all creatures that exist also exist ‘aptly’ (i.e., they have their own ways of existing). Yes, this is true: all creatures experience (especially those with highly evolved nervous systems).
3. Let me now switch my attention to human beings (who also, always, have experience in the above sense of the word) and signal this switching of attention by emphasizing the active dimension of ‘bhava’ thus: bhava also means ‘becoming’. Thus anubhava, in this less generic sense, refers to an apt way of becoming. Becoming what? Whatever. This word emphasizes the process of ‘becoming’, whatever a creature ‘becomes’. In order to become (whatever you become), you have to go through the process of becoming. That is, you go through a process of transition from one state to another state. Anubhava, in this second sense, emphasizes this process of transition. So, to become a human being, one has to go through an ‘apt’ process of transition. Such transition involves learning.
4. Functioning in the background to the second sense of anubhava is a vague sense of a standard. It is very unclear what it is to be a human being, but the word anubhava (here) indicates that, in so far as a process of learning is involved, one becomes a human being in some preferable way. Let us, not yet, seek the standard: let us simply say that anubhava here merely involves going through a process of learning that allows a human being to “deal with” all its senses: sense, sound, taste, thought, feeling and so on. What is apt here? Anything that allows you to deal with these senses. So, in this second sense, anubhava means learning to deal with your senses, no matter how you deal with them.
5. There is now a third sense of anubhava, where we can take one more step to explicate the meaning of anubhava by focusing on ‘anu’ or aptness. The human being learns to deal with his senses aptly: apt in so far he deals with these senses rightly and apt in so far as his senses respond the right way to the world. (This is the ‘subjective’ and the ‘objective’ sense of aptness or appropriateness.) This is not merely a learning process but one which presupposes human communities: these communities will have generated multiple standards of aptness depending upon their understanding of both human beings and the world. (For example, anger makes you keep quiet, makes you shout, scold, and so on; even these vary depending upon whether you are a child or adult; and, even then, who is present with you and so on. This is how you learn to ‘deal with’ anger, for instance.) The greater the varieties of ‘dealing with’ senses you have learnt, the greater is your ‘anubhava’ or experience.
6. Where does thinking about or reflecting on experience fit in? Through the process of thinking (and experimenting), you refine the way you deal with the raw material of your ‘anubahava’ (or experience), which consist of thoughts, feelings, sensations, perception and so on. You become ‘more apt’ and ‘more ‘appropriate’. As you learn to become more ‘anu’, your ‘bhava’ changes too. You use ‘anubhava’ to transform your subsequent anubhava: or experience helps you refine experience further.
Let us postpone the question of what ‘anubhaava’ consists of. For the moment, I hope this formulation avoids the problems that the words ‘stance’ and ‘attitude’ created.
- What is experience? III
- The absence of supernatural entities in Indian traditions