January 11, 2006

Pre-rational, rational, and trans-rational ways of knowing

If a person does not have a clear and coherent understanding of “existence-consciousness-bliss” then it is very easy for them to be misled by their ignorance. And, this is equally true of those who have no direct experience of Awareness. I encounter each one of these wrong approaches among people on a regular basis. There are some who are so intent on direct experience, that when such occurs—because they have not cultivated a clear and coherent understanding—its real benefit is lost and they flounder, being cast about by every whim and fancy of interpretation. And, there are others who know the philosophical truth of the interconnectedness of all things, but lacking the wisdom of direct experience they remain ineffectual in the elimination of suffering.
  • Individuals of the first type cannot be bothered with the philosophical exploration of their experience and dismiss all such attempts as fanciful and suspect. Speaking to this “pragmatic” or “material” conservatism (defined as devoid of outreaching exploration), Sri Aurobindo writes:
“They admit and jealously defend the changes compelled by the progressive mind in the past, but combat with equal zeal the changes that are being made by it in the present. For to the material man the living progressive thinker is an ideologue, dreamer or madman” (Synthesis of Yoga, 18).
Believing in the primacy of the self, they attempt to conserve it and to not threaten it by an exploration that could result in change and challenge. They tend to think highly of the past and tend to use it as a measure of validity. This perspective and attitude is most commonly seen in their consistent employment of the pre/trans fallacy* and the prevalence of neo-paganism and New Age religiosity (although it is equally present in fundamentalist circles). The result of this approach is an incomplete epistemology, an incomplete way of knowing. While they may be people of “action,” there is little help that can be gained from them by way of dialogical growth. It is my opinion, then, that such an approach is egocentric at its core and it will remain so with an epistemology that doesn’t confront ignorance.
“Great indeed, but few are those to whom self-knowledge from within is thus sufficient and who do not need to pass under the dominant influence of a written book or a living teacher” (Synthesis of Yoga, 48).
  • But, individuals of the second type fair no better. “If the pursuit of truth leads to a bifurcation, separating it from wisdom and compassion, then something must be wrong. At best, such philosophizing could lead only to eviscerated abstractions and could tell us nothing much of value about the lived world, the world as we actually experience it” (emphasis original, Radical Knowing, 27). This approach leads to an emptiness of experience that leaves the individual unable to confront suffering and disconnected from life. On the purely mental approach, we read,
“ it knows not how to deal with the resistance of Matter. There it is hampered and inefficient, works by bungling experiments and has either to withdraw from the struggle or submit to the gray actuality. Or else, by studying the material life and accepting the conditions of the contest, it may succeed, but only in imposing temporarily some artificial system which infinite Nature either rends and casts aside or disfigures out of recognition or by withdrawing her assent leaves as the corpse of a dead ideal” (Synthesis of Yoga, 19).
While these individuals may be able to offer clear and cogent theories about Awareness, that is all they remain. With no “wisdom,” they lack the capacity to eliminate the suffering in their life or the lives of the sentient beings around them. Both of these approaches suffer from a faulty epistemology. In one case, there is the absence of direct interaction with what is happening right now and in the other case there is an absence of conceptual grasping. It is my belief that both are needed for a balanced and healing epistemology.
Having Right View entails pre-rational, rational, and trans-rational ways of knowing. There is a place for concepts, ideas, feelings, and direct experience. Only with all of these present can we avoid a partial understanding and such a partial understanding is ignorance—the very opposite of Right View. And, with Right View, suffering drops away and everything changes. Right View sees a galaxy in the raindrops on a windshield, the Kosmos in an icicle hanging from the roof edge, the brilliant light of stardust in a people-filled sports arena. It hears the eternal refrain “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the rustling of the leaves. It is a view illumined by the reflected consciousness of the sacred. Right View opens the doors of Nirvana.
*The pre/trans fallacy is identified as a confusion of pre-rational and pre-personal insights with trans-rational and trans-personal insights. For more information on it, see Ken Wilber’s Sex, Ecology, & Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. HH© 2005 Reproduction prohibited without permission posted by Heretical Hare 01 December 2005 @ 10:45:00 AM Radical Thoughts Reflections in the lineage of Teilhard de Chardin, Ramana Marashi, Sri Aurobindo, Meister Eckhart, Plotinus, Buddha Shakyamuni, Giordano Bruno, Lao Tzu, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henri Bergson, Krishnamurti, Alfred North Whitehead, Joshua of Nazareth, Gottfried Leibniz, Paul Tillich and William James.

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