September 30, 2007

By a familiar mythopoeic process

The Virgin Birth and the Earliest Christian Tradition
(By K.D.Sethna; Published by The Integral Life Foundation, U.S.A.; Price: Rs. 85.00, pp.92)
The Virgin-Birth doctrine is a much discussed topic among theologians and comparatists of religions. The Gospel of the Hebrews, the early Christian Apocryphal book informs us: “The saviour himself saith, ‘Even now my mother the Holy Spirit took me!’”
In the fourth century Aphraates of Edessa spoke of a man having god for his father and “The Holy Spirit his mother”. The Odes of Solomon, a Jewish Christian work of the second(?) century associates Mary’s virginity with the thesis of a painless birth and a feminine Holy Spirit. The combination of Mary with the Holy Spirit has triggered off new interpretations of the developing doctrine of the Divine Trinity.
Out of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament, the gospels of Mathew and Luke were the sole documents to narrate the Virgin Birth. And all the rest, as Father Raymond E. Brown in his scholarly work The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus repeatedly grants, are silent.
The Virginity ascribed to Mary, ‘Mother of God’, as the representative of a creative goddess-force would essentially be symbolic. Sri Aurobindo in his Essays on the Gita observes: “In the Buddhist legend the name of the mother of Buddha (Mayadevi, also Mahamaya) makes the symbolism clear; in the Christian the symbol seems to have been attached by a familiar mythopoeic process to the actual human mother of Jesus of Nazareth.” -- P.Raja

Chesterton, Josef Pieper, and T.S. Eliot

I recently read for the second time Roger Scruton's most recent book, Culture Counts (Encounter Books, 2007), and wrote a review of it for Saint Austin Review that will be published (I'm guessing) late this year or early next...
Although (as I point out in my review) I would take issue with some of Scruton's judgments, I do agree with most of his thoughts about culture, and I think that he captures, at least in Culture Counts, a sort of popular, accessible synthesis of Chesterton, Josef Pieper, and T.S. Eliot when it comes to the meaning and importance of high culture... "Art, Beauty, and Judgment,"

Supersensible essences, governed by invisible laws, to things and to people

As I have presented it here, “commodity fetishism” is a form of perception or thought that perceives material objects and human beings to possess supersensible essences that are distinct from their overtly-observable, sensuous properties. These essences are understood to be governed by impersonal laws. The existence of such laws can be inferred or deduced from empirical observation and manipulated instrumentally for human ends, but the laws (and the essences) are not understood to derive from contingent human practice.
Marx will not deny that such “essences” and “laws” exist - he is not undertaking an “abstract negation” that sees political economy as a simple error in thinking. His critical argument is that he can reach beyond the political economists to show how such “essences” and “laws” are brought into being, why it is plausible to perceive such essences and laws as “natural”, and yet why it has also become possible, over time, to understand the practical basis for these fetishised forms of thought - and therefore open the possibility for transformation...
I need to be very, very, very careful here: I am making a small and quite specific point, which is that none of these arguments captures what Marx is trying to say in the section on the fetish. I am not saying that Marx never makes points like those above - in places, even during the argument about the fetish, he will. And I am not dismissive of the potential importance of such arguments as important issues for critical analysis and as pivotal rallying-cries for political mobilisation.
I am saying that these arguments as attempts to articulate the notion of commodity fetishism are missing some of the strategic intent of this section of Marx’s text. The reading I am offering here is intended to drill in on a sometimes overlooked arc in this first chapter, to draw attention to how the entire chapter revolves around a series of reflections on forms of perception that attribute supersensible essences, governed by invisible laws, to things and to people. Such forms of perception, I am suggesting, are the “target” that the term “commodity fetishism” is trying to hit.
Note that this post might not make sense unless you’ve read at least the post immediately prior, on Value and Abstract Labour as Real Abstractions. The previous posts in this series are: Fragment on Textual Strategy in Capital Reflections on the “Greatest Difficulty” Nature and Society Value and Abstract Labour as Real Abstractions

September 29, 2007

The New Veda of Divine Life

Sri Aurobindo and the new age (1940) by Anilbaran Roy

“As there has been established on earth a mental Consciousness and Power which shapes a race of mental beings and takes up into itself all of earthly nature that is ready for the change, so now there will be established on earth a gnostic Consciousness and Power which will shape a race of gnostic spiritual beings and take up into itself all of earth-nature that is ready for this new transformation.”

It is this great truth of life, unknown before that Sri Aurobindo has revealed in his latest book, his magnum opus, called The Life Divine. Full of literary sublimities of classical excellence, this book will verily be the New Veda of Divine Life, which is Sri Aurobindo’s message to humanity. It indicates how conditions in Life and Nature are now not only favourable to, but are pressing for, the inevitable fulfillment of the highest spiritual aspirations of man through the emergence of divinised supermen and a life of integral harmony, of which Sri Aurobindo is the path-finder. He has spoken the Supreme Word, the Word that creates worlds. What is needed is readiness of man to accept it, and follow it to its consummate end.

It is not intended here, neither is it possible, to acquaint the reader of this little book with the vast and luminous structure of Sri Aurobindo’s thought as presented in The Life Divine. We however give below just a few extracts which may help as glimpses of that magnificent work...

Meghnad Saha’s debate with Anilbaran Roy

Scientism and social justice: Meghnad Saha's critique of the state ...
Saha’s debate with Anilbaran Roy has been reprinted in Santimay ... ried on a long and acrimonious debate in 1938/9 with a certain Anilbaran Roy on ...
Abstract Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 2002, Vol. 33, No. 1, Pages 87-105 Posted online on December 2, 2003. (doi:10.1525/hsps.2002.33.1.87) Scientism and social justice: Meghnad Saha's critique of the state of science in India Abha Sur
Meghnad Saha, India's most distinguished astrophysicist of the 20th century, was a zealous advocate of large-scale industrialization and scientific development. Yet Saha became an outspoken critic of the science and industrialization policies of the Nehru era that seemed in accord with his own views. This paper examines the nature of the differences—ideological and hierarchical—between the social outlook and worldviews of Saha and Nehru's coterie of scientists, and thus offers an understanding of the state of science and technology in India during their time.
Modern Science and Hindu Religion: A Dialogue between M N Saha and Anilbaran Roy SANTIMAY CHATTERJEE
A New Philosophy of Life M N Saha
Rejoinder to the Rejoinder: 1 M N SHAHA
Rejoinder to the Rejoinder: 2 M N SHAHA
Rejoinder to the Rejoinder: 3 M N SHAHA
Rejoinder to the Rejoinder: 4 M N Shaha
Conclusion M N SAHA
The Scientist in Society ($12.75) Description This collection of essays and addresses-most of them quite inaccessible now, and some of them translated for the first time into English - offers a rare insight into the social concern that the first generation of modern Indian scientists brought to their commitment to science. Even as they sought in the dissemination of the scientific temper the enlightenment of the Indian mind cramped under superstition and obscurantism, their emphasis was on innovation, improvisation, and creativity. The Indian science project, as they conceived it, would be one that could stand on its own, devising its own machinery, and asserting its independence. The six scientists and their modern commentators provide a rich set of readings opening up a fresh view of a project that has been distorted and diluted over the years.

September 28, 2007

The Mother’s mission is so definitely outlined in the Prayers of between 1912 and 1914

It was Sri Aurobindo who first fixed upon the creative Supermind as the goal of human evolution and laboured to call down and canalize its all-achieving Force for the birth of a new race of humanity, the race of Gnostic supermen…

But in order that this emergence may be complete and securely established on earth, it is essential, as a pre-condition, that Matter should be transmuted into the luminous substance of the divine existence from which it is derived…

Physical transformation by means of the authentic supramental force is, therefore, the crux of the mission of Sri Aurobindo’s life…

But it is very interesting that the same ideal had been the shaping truth and realizing force in the Mother’s life even when she was in France and knew absolutely nothing of Sri Aurobindo and his thoughts…

Her Prayers & Meditations, in which she has transcribed some of her experiences, bear surprising testimony to the essential identity which had existed between her ideal and that of Sri Aurobindo even before she met him in person on the 29th March, 1914. We cannot account for this identity by deriving it from the mystical traditions of the West…
(Author) (Unknown Binding - 1967) 4 Used & new from $17.95 [Not many people have heard of Rishabhchand, and since he passed away thirty-six years ago, even those who knew him are now few in number. » Rishabhchand]

Anthropomorphism and mechanism have their elements of truth

If we admit the Divine Being, the supreme Person and All-Person as the Ishwara, a difficulty arises in understanding his rule or government of world-existence, because we immediately transfer to him our mental conception of a human ruler; we picture him as acting by the mind and mental will in an omnipotent arbitrary fashion upon a world on which he imposes his mental conceptions as laws, and we conceive of his will as a free caprice of his personality. But there is no need for the Divine Being to act by an arbitrary will or idea as an omnipotent yet ignorant human being, — if such an omnipotence were possible, — might do: for he is not limited by mind; he has an all-consciousness in which he is aware of the truth of all things and aware of his own all-wisdom working them out according to the truth that is in them, their significance, their possibility or necessity, the imperative selfness of their nature. The Divine is free and not bound by laws of any making, but still he acts by laws and processes because they are the expression of the truth of things, — not their mechanical, mathematical or other outward truth alone, but the spiritual reality of what they are, what they have become and have yet to become, what they have it within themselves to realise.
He is himself present in the working, but he also exceeds and can overrule it; for on one side Nature works according to her limited complex of formulas and is informed and supported in their execution by the Divine Presence, but on the other side there is an overseeing, a higher working and determination, even an intervention, free but not arbitrary, often appearing to us magical and miraculous because it proceeds and acts upon Nature from a divine Supernature: Nature here is a limited expression of that Supernature and open to intervention or mutation by its light, its force, its influence. The mechanical, mathematical, automatic law of things is a fact, but within it there is a spiritual law of consciousness at work which gives to the mechanical steps of Nature's forces an inner turn and value, a significant rightness and a secretly conscious necessity, and above it there is a spiritual freedom that knows and acts in the supreme and universal truth of the Spirit. Our view of the divine government of the world or of the secret of its action is either incurably anthropomorphic or else incurably mechanical; both the anthropomorphism and mechanism have their elements of truth, but they are only a side, an aspect, and the real truth is that the world is governed by the One in all and over all who is infinite in his consciousness and it is according to the law and logic of an infinite consciousness that we ought to understand the significance and building and movement of the universe.
If we regard this aspect of the one Reality and put it in close connection with the other aspects, we can get a complete view of the relation between the eternal Self-Existence and the dynamics of the Consciousness-Force by which it manifests the universe. If we place ourselves in a silent Self-existence immobile, static, inactive, it will appear that a conceptive Consciousness-Force, Maya, able to effectuate all its conceptions, a dynamic consort of the Self of silence, is doing everything; it takes its stand on the fixed unmoving eternal status and casts the spiritual substance of being into all manner of forms and movements to which its passivity consents or in which it takes its impartial pleasure, its immobile delight of creative and mobile existence. Whether this be a real or an illusory existence, that must be its substance and significance. Consciousness is at play with Being, Force of Nature does what it wills with Existence and makes it the stuff of her creations, but secretly the consent of the Being must be there at every step to make this possible. There is an evident truth in this perception of things; it is what we see happening everywhere in us and around us; it is a truth of the universe and must answer to a fundamental truth-aspect of the Absolute.
But when we step back from the outer dynamic appearances of things, not into a witness Silence, but into an inner dynamic participating experience of the Spirit, we find that this Consciousness-Force, Maya, Shakti, is itself the power of the Being, the Self-Existent, the Ishwara. The Being is lord of her and of all things, we see him doing everything in his own sovereignty as the creator and ruler of his own manifestation; or, if he stands back and allows freedom of action to the forces of Nature and her creatures, his sovereignty is still innate in the permission, at every step his tacit sanction, “Let it be so”, tathastu, is there implicit; for otherwise nothing could be done or happen. Being and its Consciousness-Force, Spirit and Nature cannot be fundamentally dual: what Nature does, is really done by the Spirit. This too is a truth that becomes evident when we go behind the veil and feel the presence of a living Reality which is everything and determines everything, is the All-powerful and the All-ruler; this too is a fundamental truth-aspect of the Absolute.

The absolute need to have a God, realisable only by Absolute Surrender

Rangarajan said...
This article did not take any reference to the eastern Philosophical concepts--in particular--SriVaishanavaite philosophy which very eminently describes the absolute need to have a God, realisable only by Absolute Surrender---this is pretty much like what the author has mentioned about Renunciation---- there is great degree of well established philosophical concepts regarding Godhood--how HE permeates into the Soul(Atman) and also how He displays Himself thru various Forms ---while one could discuss this entire concept of Sri Vaishnavism of India which practically addresses any kind of question that emanates from even a Believer and also" not so firm beleivers".
It would be good if Mr Edmundson spends some time on these ideas--in fact I will be in New York in october--if he is free I can meet him and elaborate on these cocnepts which are time immemorial in its origin. 12:41 PM, September 28, 2007 Evergreen Essays

The question of meaning is sadly neglected in this postmodern era

Higher Education and the Meaning of Life
I knew one professor who regularly taught a course under the title, “The Meaning of Life.” It was an elective course, counted toward the general education requirement. Most of the course content consisted of guest presentations from the community that explained how they constructed meaning out of the things they did in their personal and professional lives. As an administrator I have encouraged such courses to be offered by professors in the humanities and social sciences. Such courses can create excitement among students, faculty and the community, and even serve as a focal point to connect the seemingly unconnected pieces of knowledge students acquire in college. Careful design can satisfy the requirements of measuring learning outcomes in order to satisfy outside agencies.
The problem, perhaps, is that faculty themsleves need to be convinced that education’s primary goal is search for meaning. Our institutional structures and curricular arrangements are not conducive to address the question of meaning. The question of meaning is sadly neglected in this postmodern era. We administrators share some responsibility for the state of affairs as it exists. Perhaps, we have removed ourselves too far from academic pursuits, as we strive to compete with our peers in prestige, size of the endowment, and research dollars. The corporate model of administering universities does not serve us well. — Matthew Sep 27, 04:30 PM #

Heidegger's conception of the world stems out of the teaching (not publications) of Husserl

A great place to start with Heidegger that I recommend to absolutely everyone is in his Phenomenology of Religious Life, the short (all in all it is 7 pages or so) sections on "Factical Life Experience as the Point of Departure" and "Taking-Cognizance-of." Here Heidegger essentially outlines, in the Winter Semester of 1920-21, what would later become his conception of the "world" in Being and Time, not in a rigorous way (as these issues are pursued in Ontology: the Hermeneutics of Facticity), but in an accessable, surprisingly easy manner. One can also see Heidegger's conception of the world stemming out of the teaching (not publications) of Husserl and his intrest in the "life-world." All in all, before anyone tackles Being and Time it is probably good to go here for clarification and orientation to Heidegger's overall view.

Science constitutes a method, historically derived and epistemologically restricted

26 September 2007 Hegel's critique of consciousness (Hegel, Pt. 2) The Tartski Well, lest we get ahead of ourselves, I will briefly mention some of the main points outlined in Hegel's Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit. This will help us keep track of the reasons Hegel is asking certain questions, and help us determine to what extent he is successful in making his case.
In the introduction, Hegel's project is made clear. He intends to show that in order to complete the project of certain and true knowledge, it is imperative that we also know ourselves. This cannot be understood as a mere repetition of Buddha's famous command, "Know thyself." Rather, Hegel wishes to demonstrate that any knowledge of a given object or "other" cannot help but be affected by the subject that is knowing it. Only through self-consciousness -- that is, my awareness of my own hand in my knowing things -- can we hope to correctly understand our consciousness of other things.
So far, Hegel is essentially no different from Kant, for Kant also disagreed with the empiricists and the rationalists. (Empiricism states that knowledge of an object is indifferent of the subject; rationalism states that our logical patterns are necessary and derived from reality.) Hegel's unique contribution will come later.
His first major section, Consciousness, contains three chapters: Sense-certainty, perception, and understanding. Each of these three poses as a non-philosophical contender for the prize of true knowledge. Hegel, however, show the road taken by consciousness from the first to the second and finally to the third, and also demonstrates how none of them can legitimately speak about what something is in-itself; rather, they can only speak of appearance, or in other words, what something is for them. In doing so, Hegel is preparing the ground for his next major section, Self-consciousness, which will be dealt with in a future post.
Sense-certainty. Some empiricists claim that the richest, purest knowledge is simply our immediate sense-based knowledge of a given object, prior to any thinking or conceptualizing about it. Hegel, then, asks them the question -- What actual knowledge is given to the subject by merely experiencing the object? He answers -- only its simple existence. But what is it? If we say, for example, that the cat is black, this appears to be simple sense-based knowledge devoid of any thinking about the object. However, what is really happening in our minds is that we are applying certain concepts to the object, and this categorization requires us to move beyond the sensed information just given by the object.
Hegel explains that, for example, saying the an object is "black" is only meaningful if we are simultaneously saying that it is not-brown, not-red, not-blue, and so on. In other words, we are locating a particular property in a whole range of possibilities, although only one member of the range is actually being sensed at the moment. If the property cannot be compared to other possible substitutes, then the property ceases to have meaning -- in other words, the object must be distinguishable from other objects in order for us to learn anything from our experience of it. However, since the application of properties to an object is in fact our own addition to the immediate sense-based experience, it is clear that merely experiencing an object cannot provide us with any knowledge. Hegel's terminology for use of properties is perception.Perception. We have seen that, in the consciousness's own pursuit of knowledge, it does not stop at merely experiencing the object, but instead perceives the object according to a pre-existing body of knowledge, or "concepts." These concepts disallow us from understanding anything by itself; the experience must be lifted from the senses to the cognition, turned into an object. The lived experience of salt's saltiness, for example, becomes named and categorized according to the long history of experience into which it must somewhere fit.
Hegel argues that, in this light, the only truth of perception is in the universals it posits. This is why we can develop habits, and understand or decide intuitively, instinctively, rather than treating each case as unique (which is what bare perception alone would do). However, since the universals are themselves constituted from the numerous experiences, it would appear that the universals accurately reflect the objects alone. So it is that perception claims the power to know the truth.
Hold on a minute. In light of the mere word "universal," another question be posed. Who unifies all of this diverse experience? There were a number of possibilities in Hegel's day. His own forerunner, Kant, said that the unifier was the ego, or "I." On the other hand, Popular empiricism held that the unifier was simply a natural ordering of experience, whether "God," who imparts his knowledge to us, or some other less conscious principle of ordering. Hegel disagrees with a natural ordering, not because his system has no room for God, but rather because it is the same as saying that "God causes lightening." While this may be stated, it does not help any investigation into the nature of knowledge, because it is the same as saying, "Well, we just know things." It is a cope-out that belongs to pre-critical, pre-modern, and pre-enlightenment thought. The man of the Enlightenment, as Kant famously said, is the man free to use his own mind in the pursuit of truth, rather than to believe the truth based on some established tradition or authority.
For this reason, Hegel naturally agrees with Kant, though later on we will see the very important differences that emerge as a result of Hegel's "Spirit" (Ger. Geist).
Understanding. Here we arrive at what Hegel generally refers to as Science -- not in the narrow sense the word has in English, but rather the network of the higher investigations of cognition, and the deployment of universals to result in a very economical and well-ordered world.
What many people fail to realize, Hegel says, is that Science constitutes a method, historically derived and epistemologically restricted. It cannot say what a thing is in-itself; in other words, the difference between Science and philosophy must be maintained.
It is also at these crossroads where Kant fails to distinguish experience from Science. Hegel, on the other hand, realizes that the vast majority of experience does not constitute science, which is why unlike Kant he leaves the discussion about "transcendental philosophy" quite quickly (and thankfully, for all of you out there who have no idea what transcendental philosophy might be!). Rather, Hegel recognizes that Science is a radical demolishing of consciousness's home, the world of perception, and its transforming into the world of laws and forces. Salt becomes NaCl.
However, Science itself, as we have said already, is a historical phenomenon, and is not a philosophy. It is rather the progression from an ordinary category based framework to a complex system that consistently reinterprets experiences into altogether different terms. Newtonian laws of physics, for example, clearly turn the world into a peaceful kingdom of rules, whereas according to perception alone, we experience it as quite a jolting place.
However, we are informed that things necessarily happen because of this principle and that law. When Science turns into necessity, it has stepped into a zone where it cannot properly say anything. Let me explain. When a "theory" is first presented, for example the theory of gravity, it can presumably be disproven. As experimentation proceeds, it appears that the theory is being plunged into reality and thus tested; however, by the end, when the theory is "proven," we see that in fact it is reality that is submerged, and in its wake, a concept emerges. This concept or law may now operate independently of any sense-data whatsoever. In other words, we have made a transition from a sensible to a supersensible world, a world beyond the senses.
Hegel's final point is the most moving of them all -- Science is a tautology, or in other words, a system of classification and systemization imposed on the material by the subject. This is because a scientific law is committed to understanding objects as mutually indifferent. But if elements are independent, then there is no law, there is only "regular behavior." Science, in this light, cannot say what things are in themselves, but only as they appear. Any concept of necessity is therefore imposed on the material, its origin being supersensible. And any concept imposed on the material is an imprint of the subject, not the object.
For example, take electricity. There is no necessary reason to understand it in terms of polarity (positive and negative). This is clear because they only have meaning in relation to other parts of the system -- positive is the opposite of negative, and vice versa -- so if the system is removed, it is a clean break. Observed regularity is one thing, necessary connection is quite another. And a summary of data is not an explanation to why things happen as they do, nor does it allow us to predict what the next experiment will yield.
And so Hegel demonstrates that the concepts of Science are not inherent in the subject matter. Rather, reason goes ahead with its own agenda. In effect, one can say with Hegel that "[science] reaches out for something else and really remains preoccupied with itself." And until science realizes that its object is actually its own creation, it will remain only conscious, and not self-conscious.
In summary, Hegel demonstrates that to be conscious is not enough. If we are only conscious, we are prone to fall into the trap of ascribing our knowledge as being derived entirely from the objects as they are in themselves, rather than as they are for us. This latter perspective requires us to become self-conscious, not only of the way in which we conceptualize, but also how even before we investigate a certain natural phenomenon that intrigues us, we have a plan and a method which will guide us from mere experience of that phenomenon, all the way to a scientific knowledge of it. Next week: A look at the nature of self-consciousness and its role in the pursuit of knowledge. Categories:

September 27, 2007

All His Wisdom and Knowledge Sri Aurobindo reached directly by Identification

When Sri Aurobindo wrote the book The Life Divine, He had already reached the threshold of the Supramental Consciousness, far above the plane of the Intuitive Mind, far above Intuition. He interpreted rationally in His philosophical treatise The Life Divine all His Wisdom and Knowledge that He reached directly by Identification, not only by Intuition. He did not discard Reason. To discard Reason and accept Intuition would have been against His approach of Integration. Can we and should we discard Reason which had been a help to us for millennia for surpassing the surrounding darkness? Reason may not be the highest means of Knowledge. But till the coming of Intuition, it has to be there. Only, it has to be transformed and widened and illumined as far as possible. It is an instrument, and its proper use is in our hands.

And all that appears to us as Intuition is not intuition. There are many false signals also. And the old earth-Nature, in its animal kingdom, worked with instincts. And often the humans work with impulses. All these have to be searched and scrutinized, for they appear to many people as Intuitions. And there are the Anti-Divine Forces, who intimations and we may often think that they are Intuitions. The Mother has many times cautioned us against all these.

These clarifications are added here, in order to ensure that those who read about Sri Aurobindo in my Blog or anywhere else are not misled by the words for their various meanings and usages.

Sri Aurobindo 8 Confusions and Explanations II
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Much of the considerable delight I get from Bloch comes from his digressions, his encyclopedic wanderings

tusarnmohapatra Says: September 26, 2007 at 11:18 pm Wouldn’t it be pertinent to remember Baudrillard too while on the subject of “objects?”
larvalsubjects Says: September 26, 2007 at 11:41 pm Tusarnmohapatra, absolutely. As it stands– I’m embarrassed to say –I have only limited familiarity with Baudrillard, so I’m unable to say a good deal about his works. As I understand it, The System of Objects makes a number of claims about “symbolic-value” with regard to desire under capitalism. I tried to be postmodern once, but it felt funny and not at all natural, so there are a lot of these canonical figures that I’m just not that familiar with. This has made it difficult for me to situate myself vis a vis academia as (and perhaps I’m just being narcissistic) I just don’t fit into some of these categories very well. I was attracted to Deleuze not as a postmodern skeptic, but as a first rate metaphysician who thinks the world in terms of process and development. I fell into Lacan by chance, but stuck with his thought because of its ability to thematize both things in my own life and the social world about me.
Generally I haven’t found much in Lyotard, Baudrillard, or Derrida (though I wrote a thesis on the last of these three, situating him in terms of Husserl and, of all thinkers, C.S. Peirce), because it seems that these thinkers simply end up endlessly saying how such and such is impossible or falls apart, which I find uninteresting (of course all projects ultimately fail, but their few successes are grand). Perhaps, however, at a future point I’ll find myself encountering a set of problems that suddenly makes these thinkers significant for my own questions.
In my quest to think about futurity as opposed to endless historical analysis, I started reading Jameson’s Archeologies of the Future this afternoon and discovered, much to my dismay and delight, that Ernst Bloch gives a similar analysis of utopian imaginaries embodied in commodities in the second volume of The Principle of Hope (at least if I’ve understood Jameson’s descriptions correctly). Has anyone out there read The Principle of Hope. Given that it’s three volumes, is it worth the time and effort? I have similar questions about Lefebvre’s massive Critique of Everyday Life. I get nervous whenever I start making forays into humanistic Marxism.
Steven Shaviro Says: September 27, 2007 at 1:10 am I’ve read most of The Principle of Hope — I have almost, but not quite, finished it. (I put it aside a while ago, with just 200 or so pages left to go. When I am less busy, I hope to return to it and finish it). Reading it is one of those experiences, like reading Proust (though it isn’t as good as Proust) where getting immersed in it, because of its length, is part of the point, and a big part of the effect it has. But this is a matter of panorama, not just of length. Reading The Principle of Hope is like having a whole country to explore, rather than a difficult thesis to work through and work out — in that way, reading Bloch is very different from reading, say, Kant or Adorno or Derrida. Much of the considerable delight I get from Bloch comes from his digressions, his encyclopedic wanderings, the sheer breadth of the area he covers.
That said, the book is definitely (and inevitably?) uneven. Some passages are dazzlingly brilliant, others tedious in the way they trudge through their dialectical turns and reversals (tedious because it seems to recapitulate an all-too-familiar and played-out tradition of “dialectics,” as it was endlessly restated through much of the 20th century, without the insight of its original formulations in Hegel and Marx).
I do think The Principle of Hope gives an impassioned demonstration of how utopia and utopian hopes can be meaningful, in opposition to the postmodern fashion of rejecting the very category as merely a totalitarian dream of static perfection. In that sense, I have found it conceptually useful. Though, for me, Bloch is ultimately not anywhere near as richly suggestive as, say, Adorno, let alone Deleuze or Whitehead.

To rim the lesson, as it were, with honey

larvalsubjects Says: September 26, 2007 at 10:22 pm Orla, I teach Epicurus nearly every semester in my intro to ethics courses, and have a tremendous fondness for him. The great thing about Lucretius in comparison is that De Rerum Natura is primarily focused on the metaphysical doctrine underpinning this ethical system. If you haven’t read this text, it’s a real treat. The text is filled with all sorts of very nuanced and marvellous observations of nature to support its claims, and the argumentation is clever and razor sharp. What I find most impressive is how Lucretius is able to make inferences to the unobserved– the atoms, which are below the threshold of consciousness –based on these observations, simply through thought alone (without the assistance of electron microscopes, etc). A few of my students have exclaimed “how did he manage to come up with this stuff!” Of course, there was an entire tradition of atomist thinkers from which he was drawing, but all the same…
This week we began Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura in my intro philosophy courses. I am extremely excited to teach this text. Not only is it beautifully written, but Lucretius’ brilliance glows on every page in both the ethical concerns that animate the text and his precise and careful observations of various natural phenomena to support his arguments. In my view, a good philosophical thesis problematizes the world and creates research projects. Where before certain things seemed to be obvious features of the world, these hitherto familiar things now become bathed in the light of problems, demanding explanation in terms of the overarching thesis. Thus, for example, Lucretius’ atomism now turns the growth of a tree or water oozing from cave walls into problems or questions to be explained in terms of atoms. Stunning philosophical claims suddenly burst forth like lightening, such as the the claim that “all things are porous”.
Increasingly it looks like Lucretius was mistaken in his conception of atoms as the smallest units of indestructable matter– quantum mechanics seems to suggest that there are no smallest units of matter, only various rhythms and intensities of energy defined more as relations or fields that perpetually reconstitute themselves as dynamic processes in relation to other point-fields, than individual points –but nonetheless Lucretius’ thesis remains one that bathed the world in clarity, making possible questions and explanations that were not otherwise possible. This, too, is a virtue of a good thesis: It becomes lively towards its own material, such that the conditions are created where it can encounter the limits of what it is able to explain, allowing new theses to emerge. When thought is a patchwork quilt with no convictions, such liveliness does not occur as the most heterogeneous elements sit side by side in the patchwork making no claim on the matter.
The first thing that strikes the reader of Lucretius is the form of De Rerum Natura. Why is it written as a poem? After all, Lucretius could have presented his claims as a series of numbered points. Were he alive today he could have presented it as a Powerpoint presentation. Why, then, the poetic form? Lucretius writes:
I teach great things,I try to loose men’s spirit from the ties,Tight-knotted, which religion binds around them.The Muses’ grace is on me, as I writeClear verse about dark matters. This is notA senseless affectation; there’s reason to it.Just as when doctors try to give to childrenA bitter medicine, they rim the cupWith honey’s sweetness, honey’s golden flavor,To fool the silly little things, as farAs the lips at least, so that they’ll take the bitterDosage, and swallow it down, fooled, but not swindled,But brought to health again through double-dealing,So now do I, because this doctrine seemsToo grim for those who never yet have tried it,So grim that people shrink from it, I’ve meantTo explain the system in a sweeter music,To rim the lesson, as it were, with honey,Hoping, this way, to hold your mind with versesWhile you are learning all that form, that patterOf the way things are. (Humphries trans, The Way Things Are, 46-47)
I was delighted to come across this passage as it not only provides the students, frustrated by the poetic form, with a rationale for this form, but also gave me the opportunity to sing the praises of rhetoric. Lucretius’ text functions on two planes of composition, the one composed of strict arguments of an inductive and deductive sort, along with the production of concepts (the astonishing concept of the porous, the invention of the void, the distinction between attributes and by-products, etc), the other being the rhetorical dimension. Recognizing that often the spirit is not persuaded by clear and rigorous arguments despite their soundness, Lucretius hopes to provoke aesthetic pleasure in his readers so as to disarm them and make them sympathetic to his austure metaphysics that otherwise flies in the face of our superstitious yearnings and beliefs. Thus, Lucretius’ arguments and concepts are a bitter medicine that would bring us to health by freeing us of the terror and anxiety– terror and anxiety caused by superstitious beliefs such as those that the Gods judge us and exert their wraith through natural disasters, or that we will be punished for all eternity for not living a particular way –while his rhetoric, his poetics, are sweet honey that allows this medicine to go down more easily as we work our way towards intellectual maturity and acquire the capacity to explain the world in terms of natural causes.

September 26, 2007

Sri Aurobindo’s stories are far more dramatic than M. R. James’

We cannot end the story of Cambridge without mentioning the other discovery we have made. In the year 2001, while we were working on the dramatisation of “The Phantom Hour”, we had been struck by the similarity in the theme of this story with the stories of M. R. James who was also a part of King’s College, Cambridge. He is the best-known raconteur in England of stories which have a supernatural twist to them. It is well-known that he used to read out his own stories at Christmas time to a gathering of friends at Cambridge.
The point to note is that M. R. James not only studied at King’s but became a Fellow, Dean, then a Tutor and finally Provost from 1905 to 1918. He was Dean at King’s when Sri Aurobindo joined the college. Although his first stories were published in book form in 1904, the first time that a magazine carried these stories was in 1895, only three years after Sri Aurobindo had left the university town.
However, it is an accepted fact that M. R. James wrote or recounted these ghost stories much before they came out in print. One can easily surmise that Sri Aurobindo would at least have known of his stories if he hadn’t actually met him. The only short stories that we have from Sri Aurobindo’s pen are stories of the supernatural set in England, and in my opinion, far more dramatic than M. R. James’.
Sri Aurobindo at Cambridge by Sunayana Panda
by RY Deshpande on Wed 26 Sep 2007 01:48 AM PDT Permanent Link [The article has first appeared in the quarterly Golden Chain, August 2007, an alumni journal of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. Sunayana belongs to the 1979 alumni batch.] Keywords: SriAurobindo, Spirituality, People, Literature, India, History, Ashram, Art Posted to: Main Page CULTURE EDUCATION LITERATURE .. European Union .. India INTEGRAL YOGA SRI AUROBINDO 7:31 PM

Western scholars have yet to come out of the ‘Jones syndrome’ (that is pursuing Vedic research with language and linguistic tools)

Y. Sudershan Rao Sunday, September 16, 2007
A Report on the Fourth International Vedic Workshop on Vedas in Culture and History
South Asia Institute, University of Texas, Austin (24-27 May 2007)
It is indeed a rare opportunity for me to interact with select international Vedic fraternity which could meet only four times in two decades. For the one who has seen the Vedic meets with dhoti-clad traditional Brahmin pandits in native surroundings, it is a bit amusing to find the ‘White’ Brahmins in Western attires in an alien (for me) atmosphere. The way the Sans‘k’ri‘t’(‘k’ and ‘t’ pronounced as in ‘k’i‘t’e) terms are pronounced and the hymns are quoted by this Neo-Brahmin class sounds strange to native ears.
It seems that the Western scholars have yet to come out of the ‘Jones syndrome’ (that is pursuing Vedic research with language and linguistic tools ). Veda is not just a literary work which is the product of a time, nor a historical text giving a chronological account. It is a knowledge store where every sincere seeker gets what he wants –good or bad, which is of course subjective. The concepts, myths, metaphors and terms are coded and couched in hard shells defying all modern tools to decipher them. Every one’s attempt to understand a Vedic phenomenon is, thus, independent. The expressions of the experiences of such seekers also differ. The Western studies seem to be mostly obsessed with base human instincts like cruelty, sex, aggrandizement and the like. Even the divine forces are not spared from such frivolities being equated with lesser humans.
However, growing interest in Vedic studies is a welcome trend. Whatever be the motives or methods or approaches of those who take to Vedic studies, our tradition says that the touch of Veda itself does miracles for the pursuers. Sadguru Dr Sivananda Murty (Bheemunipatnam, A.P., India) says that a Vedic mantra irrespective of the understanding of its meaning by the reciter, carries him to a destination already ‘seen’ by the mantradrasta. Therefore let us hope that all ends well for one and all.
Sarve janah sujano bhavantu
Sarves sujanah sukhino bhavantu,
Y.Sudershan Rao, M.A.,Ph.D.
Professor of History (Rtd)
Kakatiya University, Warangal, (506009), A.P. India
On a visit to USA: 9825, Rodeo Dr, Irving, TX (75063)
Ph 972 831 9696 Posted by Y. Sudershan Rao at
2:19 PM

Animal sacrifice not seen as literal slaughtering, but as transcendental processes

Vedantic and Hindu reformist views
Since the 19th and 20th centuries, some reformers like Swami Dayananda, founder of the "Arya Samaj" and Sri Aurobindo have attempted to re-interpret the Vedas to conform to modern and established moral and spiritual norms. They moved the Vedantic perception of the Rigveda from the original ritualistic content to a more symbolic or mystical interpretation. For example, instances of animal sacrifice were not seen by them as literal slaughtering, but as transcendental processes.
The Sarasvati river, lauded in RV 7.95 as the greatest river flowing from the mountain to the sea is sometimes equated with the Ghaggar-Hakra river, which went dry perhaps before 2600 BC or certainly before 1900 BC. Others argue that the Sarasvati was originally the Helmand in Afghanistan. These questions are tied to the debate about the Indo-Aryan migration (termed "Aryan Invasion Theory") vs. the claim that Vedic culture together with Vedic Sanskrit originated in the Indus Valley Civilisation (termed "Out of India theory"), a topic of great significance in Hindu nationalism, addressed for example by Amal Kiran and Shrikant G. Talageri.
Sub hash Kak has claimed that there is an astronomical code in the organization of the hymns. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, also based on astronomical alignments in the Rigveda, in his "The Orion" (1893) claimed presence of the Rigvedic culture in India in the 4th millennium BC, and in his "Arctic Home in the Vedas" (1903) even argued that the Aryans originated near the North Pole and came south during the Ice Age. Posted by rigveda at 9:32 PM

It would be quite useful if he were to honestly share with us his experiences (and frustrations) of dealing with Auroville's intricate politics

Re: Rich and Srikanth
by ronjon on Mon 24 Sep 2007 01:52 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
Dear RY, I appreciate your concern re Rich & Srikanth's withdrawal from active participation with SCIY. But there's no need to feel any remorse that your acrimony note was the real cause for their actions, which have been developing behind the scenes for awhile.
I've been in continuous communication with Rich about his situation, including a weekly 2-hour video conference with him. He's been heavily involved in a high-level funding proposal with Auroville and the India Knowledge Commission which has recently suffered some serious setbacks. He basically needs a break from all this while he pursues other options. I do think it would be quite useful if he were to honestly share with us here on SCIY his experiences (and frustrations) of dealing with Auroville's intricate politics. I'll talk with him personally about doing that...
So, it looks like it's pretty much up to us now RY. I do think it's time to expand our editor base to include other perspectives, and I'm wondering if there's anyone you'd like to suggest...And then there's the substantial potential of our new SCIY Forum. I hope you'll have the time and interest to co-develop it with me. I think it will be an important vehicle to significantly expand SCIY's audience and active participation. Warmly, ~ ronjon
Re: Rather Acrimonious (and a hiatus)
by Kim on Tue 25 Sep 2007 07:33 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
Rich ~ I hope you will not distance yourself from SCIY for too long. IMHO, this webzine is much more than an "interesting experiment," as you rightfully suggest. It is an instantiation of so many of the teachings, and indeed implorings, of Mother and Sri Aurobindo, at least in my small understanding of their phenomenal sacrifice for all of life. For us they have done all this! (waving arms in expansive gesture) And how wonderful that such an expression can now manifest in a webzine and that you have educated us and contributed so much to us here.
Rich, I've walked in shoes similar to yours and I know the impatience of a New Yorker and I appreciate the tenacity of the Texan, too! All that is part of who you are, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle!) weave of what you've become, and fundamentally, it is your own unique and lovely expression. We have all learned something from this exchange and we have both you and Sri Kanth to thank for it. Hopefully you will be able to appreciate that soon. Please know that you are in our hearts and that we hold always the space for your unencumbered return. Couragio

September 25, 2007

Philosophers critical of superstition such as Socrates in the Euthyphro, Epicurus, Lucretius, Hume, etc.

larvalsubjects under Politics , Religion
This semester, in a rather ill-conceived plan to change my intro courses a bit, I elected to teach Plato’s Euthyphro and Apology, Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, Hume’s Enquiry, and Deleuze’s Nietzsche & Philosophy (the theme is critique). The Euthyphro, of course, is a dialogue about whether or not Euthyphro genuinely has knowledge of piety. De Rerum Natura seeks to free humans of their terror caused by superstition through an understanding of true causes (”superstition” is unfortunately translated in this translation as “religion”, despite the fact that Lucretius isn’t an atheist). Hume devotes a lengthy chapter to the critique of miracles in the Enquiry. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Nietzsche & Philosophy, so I can’t recall whether religion is a central focus or whether the focus is primarily on moral psychology. I should emphasize that this is a new syllabus and that usually I have a component on Augustine, Descartes’ Meditations, and Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling or Sickness Unto Death.
At any rate, when I teach philosophers critical of superstition such as Socrates in the Euthyphro, Epicurus, Lucretius, Hume, etc., I’m careful to apply the arguments to a wide range of religious beliefs such as the Aztecs, Christianity, the Kaluli, etc., etc. I find that students often distance themselves from arguments, claiming they only apply to ignorant pagans or those wicked “others”, rather than applying them to their own familiar belief systems as well. For instance, Lucretius begins Book I of De Rerum Natura arguing against the claim that it is a crime to think in these materialistic terms by arguing that tremendous crimes have been propagated by priests in the name of superstition. He evokes Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter to make this point. Drawing on Kierkegaard’s analysis of the tragic hero versus the knight of faith in Fear and Trembling, I then make reference to the story of Jeptha and his sacrifice of his daughter in the Old Testament to show that this point isn’t restricted to the Greek world. Does that cross the line? I don’t know. Do I cross the line when teaching Epicurus’ and Lucretius’ claim that superstition produces dread when encountering unusual phenomena (such as comets, eclipses, earthquakes, hurricanes, plagues, tsunamis, etc), which people who don’t have knowledge of natural causes explain in terms of the wraith of the gods by pointing out that some religious leaders in the United States explained Hurricane Katrina and the recent Tsunami as resulting from God’s wraith? I don’t know.
Regardless of the material I’m teaching, I’m always careful to emphasize that the students aren’t required to accept any of these arguments or endorse any of the philosopher’s positions, only to understand the arguments. The value of this, I claim, is that through an encounter with these different positions we become more aware of our own positions and hone our own arguments in arguing against the premises on which these positions with which we disagree are based. I never penalize students when they evoke their political or religious beliefs in an essay or on a quiz, though I do insist that students not evoke sacred texts to make an argument in a philosophy paper as this violates the “rules of the game” (such arguments inevitably being circular and not addressed to the stranger that doesn’t acknowledge the sacredness of those texts), and that students understand the arguments of the philosopher they’re writing about. Perhaps this crosses the line. Most importantly, how can any philosophy class avoid crossing the line on some point or other? ... 3 Responses to “Whatever You Do, Don’t Allegorize!”
Jake P. Says: September 25, 2007 at 5:17 am When I teach, I always teach in favor of the subject I’m teaching regardless of what I think of it. When I teach Kant, I’m a Kantian. When I teach Mill, I’m an utilitarian. When I teach Marx, I’m Marxist.
Even though I’m an atheist, I will never ridicule Kierkegaard’s faith or philosophy, especially in front of my students. Methinks Bitterman should take some kind of counter legal action.
larvalsubjects Says: September 25, 2007 at 5:37 am I’m the same. I try to fully advocate for whatever position I’m teaching, animating that philosophy or thought and its arguments. I rather like Kierkegaard myself; or he’s one of my heroes anyway.
Jake P. Says: September 25, 2007 at 5:51 am Oh I like Kierkegaard to a degree anyway; that’s one of the reasons I always include him when teaching 19th century philosophy. There are even times I prefer him to his arrogant prick counterpart Nietzsche. (But in front of the students, I’m also Nietzschean ;)

Chesterton in effect made the same reply as Horace

Why Do Things Exist? On the Meaning of Being Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. September 24, 2007
"Ridentem dicere verum: quid vetat? – What prevents a man from speaking the truth while smiling?" -- Horace, Satires, I, 24.
"Philosophy means reflecting on the entirety of what is encountered in experience from every conceivable standpoint and with regard to its unique meaning. The philosophizing person is thus not so much someone who has formed a well-rounded worldview as he is someone who keeps a question alive and thinks it through methodically." -- Josef Pieper, "Tradition: Its Sense and Aspiration" [1]
"Thinking means connecting things, and stops if they cannot be connected." -- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy [2]
Several decades ago, Jean Cardinal Daniélou wrote, in words that still seem appropriate: "I believe that there is a certain sickness of contemporary intelligence, a certain powerlessness to adhere, a certain powerlessness to say 'yes,' and in an absolute primacy of the 'no.' This situation is contrary to that which constitutes for me the basic dignity of intelligence which is the possibility of grasping being." [4] If we are primarily interested in how we "feel" about a thing, and not in the thing itself and what sort of "feelings" that might be appropriate to it, we cut ourselves off from being. "The basic dignity of intelligence is the possibility of grasping being," to repeat Daniélou's principle.
Karl Marx once said, in a famous passage in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, that wherever he looked he wanted to see only man. He wanted a world without a window that would cause us to wonder about it all. He was, in fact, setting up a closed world against God. If all we ever see is man and our own theories and artifacts, we will never be interested in anything but ourselves and what we can make or rule. Nietzsche, of course, gave up on any of these theories that sought to explain reality by some coherent philosophic system once the connection with being had been lost beginning with Descartes. He thought we would be more honest just to seek power and make what we wanted without any pretense that it conformed to a reality that we could not know.
These remarks I have entitled "the existence of things." The first of the initial citations was from the Roman poet, Horace. He remarked that no contradiction exists between our joy or our smiling and our knowing the truth. Chesterton made the same point. Someone once said that he could not be serious about what he said because he was so witty in saying it. Chesterton in effect made the same reply as Horace. He said that the opposite of "funny" is not "serious." The proper opposite of "funny" is "not funny." There is no reason why the truth cannot also be funny, amusing. I cite both Horace and Chesterton on the same point because reason, in properly knowing things, is a cause of delight, of amusement, of joy. The intellect, as Aristotle said, has its own unique pleasure. The existence of things flows out of the abundance of things and points not to necessity but to gift.
A short poem of Chesterton begins, "There is only one sin: to call, a green leaf grey, / Whereat the sun in heaven shuddereth." [5] Why is it a "sin" to call a green leaf "grey?" The basic answer is because it is green and we know it. When we say of something what it is not, if it is not, we abuse it. Our minds work by identifying what is, by showing how things differentiate one thing from one another. Before we choose to do anything about something we must first have a moment in which we see its existence--what it is, that it is. Plato was right, truth is to say of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not. Philosophy, Robert Sokolowski said, consists in first making distinctions. Knowing is first contemplative. And we want to make distinctions because we not only want to know that something is, but all about it: how it is, where, when, and even why.
In a passage reminiscent of Aristotle, Yves Simon wrote, on this same point: "There is nothing more profound in the life of the intellect than our eagerness to know, without tepidity and without fear, under circumstances of a certitude totally determined by the power of truth." [6] This is a remarkable sentence. It is precisely this "eagerness" to know that is the striking thing about us. But Simon adds that this eagerness is not just a kind of gushiness about novelties. Rather it is that this power of knowing we have is directed to the truth. We want to know not just that a thing is true but the evidence and arguments for it. Simon wisely added that we want to know the truth "without fear." I had said earlier that modern thought is often guilty of the one "sin," of calling the green leaf grey, but also, even more, of doubting its very existence as coming from outside itself... Related Articles, Excerpts, and Interviews: • Author page for Josef Pieper• Author page for G. K. Chesterton

September 24, 2007

Eliot faced a similar dilemma as Emerson

Infinity Foundation Releases Book on Emerson and Hinduism NEW JERSEY, September 18, 2007: Infinity Foundation announced the release of "Emerson and the Light of India, An Intellectual History" by Robert Gordon. The Foundation provided the following overview of this and a related book on TS Eliot.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was the first American to pioneer the serious exploration of Indian philosophy, and as his own thinking grew over time, Indian philosophy profoundly influenced the course of that growth. This book thoroughly investigates the ways in which the scriptures of India shaped the maturing Transcendentalism of this great Amerian thinker. In addition, by analyzing in concrete detail the crucial ways in which the scriptures of India influenced Emerson's metaphysical development, the book repudiates the arguments of those who maintain that Emerson abandoned the optimistic faith of his youth. it makes plain that those who ascribe to Emerson a "Fall" from his early beliefs are demonstrably in error, prim arily because of their serious misunderstanding of the influence, on Emerson, of Hindu and Buddhist teachings."
Given the central importance of Emerson's Transcendentalist movement in America's intellectual history, and its influence upon a few generations of American luminaries, this book is a important corrective to American history and the role of Indic traditions in shaping it.
A prior book republished in India by Infinity Foundation was, "TS Eliot and Indic Traditions," by Cleao Kearns. This book showed how Eliot's major works, including the poems, "The Wasteland" and "The Four Quartets" were profoundly influenced by Upanishadic thoughts, Gita, etc. In fact, large passages are almost direct translations from Indic sources.
Both Emerson and Eliot were towering figures in American literature, separated by a century. Both went to Harvard where their careers were shaped by immersions in Indian texts and thought. But their relationships with Hinduism evolved in very different ways.
Emerson went back to Harvard years later to make a major address to the Harvard community, in which he publicly resigned as a Christian minister and preacher, explaining how his new philosophy (based on Hinduism) made it impossible for him to continue to preach Christianity. For making this speech, Emerson was denounced by Harvard. A decision was made to block him from ever being allowed to come to Harvard. This ex-communication from a supposedly liberal champion of intellectual freedom lasted till he died.
In Eliot's case, after he wrote some of America's most famous poems under Indian influence, he faced a similar dilemma as Emerson: whether to go all the way and leave behind his Christian identity, or whether to U-Turn back to Christianity. Eliot was under heavy Christian peer influence at Harvard. He eventually made a formal public "conversion" back to Christianity. This, explains Cleo Kearns' book, enabled him to continue studying Hindu texts from the safety of an arms-length relationship. Henceforth, he was secure as a Christian and said he was merely studying Hinduism from a distance as the "other." The post-U-turn Eliot continued to appropriate from Indic traditions and his works have left a permanent shift in Western literature and thought.

September 23, 2007

Emerson's Evolution

Emerson, Evolution, and Transmigration by Robert C. Gordon, PhD
Posted 6/24/03
Although Ralph Waldo Emerson broke with his Unitarian faith in 1832, he was enough a product of Christian theology to still retain its conceptions of time, of history, and of human origins. During the 1840s, he rejected this deep structure of the Christian world-view, and became the first to conceive the idea that the spiritual transformation of the individual played a crucial role in the process of upward evolution. While in his first book Nature, published in 1836, he had advanced the more modest conclusion that human spiritual development contributed directly to social improvement, during the 1840s he went much further, asserting that individual spiritual progress was vital to evolutionary progress. Emerson made this metaphysical leap through his brilliant fusion of neo-Platonism, science, Hegel, and India's philosophy of samsara.
As a result of these powerful influences, Emerson came to believe that the course of evolution was to create more and more mystically-gifted individuals, people who were surrendered to the Deep Force and therefore perfect channels for bringing its spiritual power into the life of everyday. According to his mature beliefs, when a critical mass of individuals had evolved far enough to become perfect vehicles of the divine consciousness, channeling the power of Spirit into the affairs of common experience, they would inaugurate a Heavenly life here on earth. While Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Aurobindo Ghose are often credited as the first to achieve this metaphysical insight, the palm instead is Emerson's. He advanced a New World version of just their wisdom decades before either Aurobindo or Teilhard de Chardin was born.

What should occupy us are the issues, and not groups or individuals

Rather acrimonious and a sincere request by RY Deshpande
on Sat 22 Sep 2007 10:08 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link
A sincere request It is with a certain sense of guilt that I am making this post, after having shot out the “acrimony” note a couple of days ago. Perhaps I should have just kept quiet. I am saddened to see that Rich wishes to withdraw from his active participation and Shrikanth has expressed his great displeasure about some matters. I do understand these sensitive aspects,—and they are genuine,—but as deeper issues are involved we could set them aside. In fact in all my sincerity I will request them to do so.
There are things of deeper concern and our concern should be to look into them and offer our best solutions to them. Basically what should occupy us are the issues, and not groups or individuals. For instance, it is totally immaterial to know to what religion Dalal belongs. I look at him as a refined person and a fine soul, and nothing else comes in my reckoning. And the most beautiful thing about him is, his is the soul that belongs to the Mother. What else is required? Issues—and that is what we should be dealing with, bringing to them the Aurobindonian light and vision. Ronjon has reminded us about the sciy protocol and that should be our working guide. It has all the beautiful elements present in it and there cannot be any objection on anybody’s part in following them.
It is my humble request to Ronjon to approach both Rich and Shrikanth to take active part and enrich sciy with their contributions, even as I request them in my personal capacity to do so. In fact I will venture to suggest Ronjon to invite Shrikanth to be a part of the sciy editorial team. I see that he has the necessary competence and experience that can open another window for the sciy. The gain will be universal. But I leave these things for Ronjon and Debashish to decide. Please consider—and thanks. RYD

September 21, 2007

Pure creative genius is not common; but in Europe they are, with a single modern exception, non-existent

The many-sidedness of an Eratosthenes or the range of a Herbert Spencer have created in Europe admiring or astonished comment; but the universality of the ordinary curriculum in ancient India was for every student and not for the exceptional few, and it implied, not a tasting of many subjects after the modern plan, but the thorough mastery of all. The original achievement of a Kalidasa accomplishing the highest in every line of poetic creation is so incredible to the European mind that it has been sought to cleave that mighty master of harmonies into a committee of three. Yet it is paralleled by the accomplishment in philosophy of Shankara in a short life of thirty-two years and dwarfed by the universal mastery of all possible spiritual knowledge and experience of Sri Ramakrishna in our own era.
These instances are not so common as the others, because pure creative genius is not common; but in Europe they are, with a single modern exception, non-existent. The highest creative intellects in Europe have achieved sovereignty by limitation, by striving to excel only in one field of a single intellectual province or at most in two; when they have been versatile it has been by sacrificing height to breadth. But in India it is the greatest who have been the most versatile and passed from one field of achievement to another without sacrificing an inch of their height or an iota of their creative intensity, easily, unfalteringly, with an assured mastery.
In Positivism Europe has attempted to arrive at a higher synthesis, the synthesis of humanity; and Socialism and philosophical Anarchism, the Anarchism of Tolstoy and Spencer, have even envisaged the application of the higher intellectual synthesis to life. In India we do not recognise the nation as the highest synthesis to which we can rise. There is a higher synthesis, humanity; beyond that there is a still higher synthesis, this living, suffering, aspiring world of creatures, the synthesis of Buddhism; there is a highest of all, the synthesis of God, and that is the Hindu synthesis, the synthesis of Vedanta. With us today Nationalism is our immediate practical faith and gospel not because it is the highest possible synthesis, but because it must be realised in life if we are to have the chance of realising the others. We must live as a nation before we can live in humanity.

Savitri is the Epic of Triumph—of the Conquest of Death

Re: A Spiritual Biography of Savitri
by RY Deshpande on Thu 20 Sep 2007 04:14 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link
The Mother narrates the story of creation on a number of occasions in her talks to the children of the Ashram school. In it Four Powers of the Supreme, —Consciousness and Light, Life, Bliss and Love, and Truth,—in their absolute freedom went far away, quite far away that they lost contact with the Source from where they had come. As soon as there was separation, separation from the Divine, Consciousness changed into Inconscience, Bliss into Suffering, Life into Death, and Truth into Falsehood. The moment this horror was seen, the divine Mother implored the Supreme and he plunged into that Void as Love. Love became the permanent Avatar because of whose presence the contact with the Supreme could be re-established. It is with this story that the Mother opens her explanation of Savitri to Huta who did the Savitri-paintings directly under her.
This story of creation appears in several places in the respective contexts in Savitri. Sri Aurobindo has not spoken of it anywhere else in any direct specific manner and it is only in Savitri that we have reference to it in a fundamental way. The reason for this to be so is perhaps because the story belongs, as the Mother says, to an ancient occult tradition and Sri Aurobindo, in his intuitive-discursive rationally projected prose writings would not bring that occult element in the presentation...
In Savitri the Story of Creation appears in vivid details at a very early stage itself, when Aswapati sees how this little life, this small ignorant world is ruled by Nature who herself is under the sway of the insentient Nought. Why all this and what is the way out?—that is the question which has to be understood and answer to it found: (pp.140-41) In the enigma of the darkened Vasts, In the passion and self-loss of the Infinite...
In Savitri we are meeting the embodied Nothingness, and it is that that gets absorbed; it vanishes into the One from whom it had come. But it is this shadow that was standing across the path of the divine Event, and Savitri has now removed it. That is her conquest over Death. It is such a conquest that in it Death himself can also become an instrument to carry out her will in the Will of the Supreme. Transformation, immortality of the physical etc--all those aspects form another story, a story of the future pertaining to the terrestrial evolution. The present epic, Savitri, is the Epic of Triumph—of the Conquest of Death. It is specific in its connotations and the rest is implied, implied because otherwise it would be speculative. That is how we might understand it. RYD