February 20, 2008

Sri Aurobindo, Schuon, Teilhard, Polanyi

On Imagining Reality from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob

We've dabbled a bit in Schuon's understanding of the symbolism of color. What about his arch-nemesis, Sri Aurobindo? What does he say? (Schuon held Sri Aurobindo in the lowest regard, as he wasn't a strict "traditionalist," to such an extent that he could not even bring himself to utter his name when smacking him around. He would just use generic descriptors such as "certain intrinsically heretical deviant modernist pseudo-yogis with deplorable evolutionist pretensions," or suchlike.)...

For example, modern physics requires a great leap of imagination to see "beyond" or through the deceptive appearances of solid matter. For the physicist, matter is nothing whatsoever like the way it presents itself to our evolved senses. It is, in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, a "floating condensation on a swarm of the indefinable." (BTW, Teilhard was Schuon's other evolutionist arch-nemesis, a veritable Catholic Sri Aurobindo, unless Aurobindo is the Hindu Teilhard.)

But does this mean that scientific theories are just human inventions, mere fancy with no anchor in reality? No, not at all. Rather, as described by Polanyi, scientific theories -- no less than authentic spiritual visions -- are analogous to "probes" with which we reach beyond the senses and into the unknown. They are both an irreducible blend of objectivity and subjectivity, without which thinking cannot take place -- neither scientific thinking nor spiritual intellection. One cannot reason in a void, whether one is reasoning about so-called "matter" or about Spirit. In both cases, the subject is merely attempting to penetrate and evolve beyond its own representation. These, er, epistemological problems are all discussed in the opening chapter of my book...

Now, as Aurobindo explains in a letter to a disciple, spiritual visions and experiences can serve as keys "to contact with the other worlds or with the inner worlds and all that is there and these are regions of immense riches which far surpass the physical plane.... One enters into a larger freer self and a larger more plastic world.... These things have not the effect of a mere imagination (as a poet's or artist's, although that can be strong enough) but if fully followed out bring constant growth of the being and the consciousness...."

This very much reminds me of when I first began studying psychoanalysis, as I had some difficulty getting beyond the concrete meaning of some of the words used to describe primitive unconscious phenomena...

Anyway, back to Aurobindo before I run out of time, which I am about to. In another letter, he summarized our present discussion by writing that "Subjective visions can be as real as objective sight -- the only difference is that one is of real things in material space, while others are of real things belonging to other planes down to the subtle physical; even symbolic visions are real in so far as they are symbols of realities.... Visions are unreal only when these are merely imaginative mental formulations, not representing anything that is or was true or is going to be true."

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