October 31, 2008

His contribution was to preach that the aim might be attained by the development of spiritual force

<<> table of contents next chapter >>
Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo

Chief Secretary,
I have just come [to] the end of an exhaustive study of the case against Arabindo Ghose.
The following facts are indisputable:–
(a) His declared aim was the absolute independence of India. He expressly discarded the ideal of colonial self-government:
(b) He avowed the principle that this aim could not be attained by gift from the English and that it must be attained otherwise:
(c) He worked with others towards the attainment of this aim:
(d) He himself was inspired by religious fanaticism with this as his dominating ideal and he endeavoured to inspire others with a religious fanaticism of the same kind:
(e) His contribution was to preach that the aim might be attained by the development of spiritual force: if every individual directed his will power1 in that one direction, the resultant force would accomplish the ideal:
(f) The Manicktollah Garden was an institution framed on these principles and by the youths gathered there Arabindo was regarded as the Karta (the head) and by some as a sort of High Priest or Guru. Many of them are proved to have associated with Arabindo.
(g) He owned a share in the garden: he was in constant touch with Barendra Kumar Ghose, his brother, who guided the persons employed in the use of explosives.
(h) From December, 1907, his mind was in a state of unusual tension and in the spring of 1908 the Bande Mataram newspaper which he managed was anticipating an immediate violent revolution... 21st May [19]09. Sd. E.P. Chapman.

October 22, 2008

The fact that ethics is philosophically interesting doesn't make it the exclusive domain of philosophers

Anderson Brown's Philosophy Blog A working philosophy professor's notes with emphasis on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, Ancient Greek philosophy, Buddhism, Wittgenstein
Friday, April 11, 2008
Philosophy and Ethics Across the Curriculum

This week we're discussing a bureaucratic issue here at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. The university is trying to develop "Ethics Across the Curriculum," specifically ethics seminars in the Agriculture, Business, Computer Science, Engineering, and Nursing programs, among other possibilities. The problem is, should my fellow philosophers and I insist that courses in ethics necessarily involve input from philosophers? (And, for example, should such courses be "cross-listed," given two course codes, one in philosophy? As I say, our problems are largely bureaucratic.)

I think that the answer is no. There are non-philosophical elements of my opinion, such as the fact that our little Philosophy Section is "the mouse that roared" so far as the Business School or the College of Engineering are concerned, but there is also a substantial philosophical point so I'm posting about it here.It's true that in the classical tradition moral instruction, understood as How to Live the Good Life, was considered to be the province of philosophers. But at that time the term "philosophy" was much broader than it is now: there was "natural philosophy" and "moral philosophy," moral philosophy encompassing what today we would call history, political science, and in general the humanities and social sciences, although it is true that we have lost the classical idea that students ought to be studying to be good persons (perhaps this is too collectivist for us).

Today, philosophy is something much more specific. I would define it as the study of metaphysics and epistemology. However, that doesn't mean that ethics is not an area of philosophy. Ethics, like aesthetics, religion, psychology, science, and mathematics, to name some prominent examples, is interesting to philosophers because ethical propositions have a metaphysically and epistemologically ambiguous relationship to "natural" propositions, propositions about, roughly speaking, the physical world (I say "ambiguous," I don't necessarily believe that ethical propositions cannot be naturalized; I don't accept the "naturalistic fallacy" argument, for example).

I'm not, then, a metaphysics jock who "doesn't do" ethics. I'm covering ethical theory in my Intro course right now, as a matter of fact. I'm interested in empiricism and ethics, specifically non-cognitivist theories and the role of logic in ethical reasoning, and the difference in the way rationalist approaches and empiricist approaches fix the extensions of the sets of moral patients and moral agents (Kant thinks they're coextensive, Mill and Singer, say, do not), and I have discussed the naturalistic fallacy in earlier posts as well as the law of effect as a basic empiricist principle. I definitely "do" ethics.

It's just that I don't think that the metaphysical and epistemological investigations of philosophers qualify philosophers in any way as experts on normative ethical codes (specific ideas about what sorts of things are right and wrong), or as social and political critics (analyses of the justice or lack thereof of social and political arrangements). I think that there is a basic conceptual error here: the fact that ethics is philosophically interesting doesn't make it the exclusive domain of philosophers, or necessarily any domain of philosophers. Physics is philosophically interesting too, but if one wants to learn about physics the place to start is Intro Physics.

  • Where do we start if we want to learn ethics?

I think that "ethics" is a highly heterogenous concept. Aristotle says in the Nicomachean Ethics that if you want to learn how to be a good person, find someone who you feel certain is a good person and watch what they do. So for Agricultural Ethics or Business Ethics or whatever it may be, it seems sensible that one finds an instructor with some experience and reputation of ethical conduct in that field. I don't see how the student in another profession is going to be much improved by listening to a professional philosopher explain consequentialism vs. deontology, say, as philosophically interesting as that distinction may be.

One final thought for the blog (not something to belabor in a faculty meeting, in my opinion): philosophy isn't the most important thing in the world. Discussions of cultural and ethnic biases, of sexism and racism, of economic and social justice, are discussions that in my opinion, and speaking as a philosophy professor, are all more important than the rather abstruse topics philosophers choose to chew on. As a society we should be (and we are) spending more time on those issues than we are on philosophy. But that doesn't mean that those are the topics that a responsible philosopher ought to engage with, any more than a good professor of, say, organic chemistry or 17th century Italian opera needs to stop everything and plunge into a political consciousness-raising session. Posted by Anderson Brown at 11:42 AM 2 comments:

Joel Rodriguez said...
I agree with you. I think the desire to adjust the curriculum comes from a handful of people in the colegio that have a preference for ethics. They are to lazy or simple do not have any interest to go outside their preferences and give something more "variado". April 22, 2008 12:46 PM

Anonymous said...
I agree with you, too. I don't think is necessary to teach Mill's Utilitarianism on Ethics for Engineer's course. That's what Introduction of Ethics and Contemporary Ethics courses are for. A person of the field, like you have said and following the 'Engineer' line, an Engineer with an impeccable curriculum and experience would be the best man or woman to handle the job pretty well. August 3, 2008 5:36 PM Post a Comment

October 20, 2008

India is going through a difficult phase - the Hindutva brigade is waiting to usurp every thing and make it their political agenda

The Lives of Sri Aurobindo: Some devotees of Sri Aurobindo might be put off by Peter’s academic tone in this biography. After all, he never calls Sri Aurobindo an “avatar” or anything like that in it. Indeed, Peter paints Sri Aurobindo as humanly as he possibly can in this biography (which was partly because he wanted a university publisher in order to reach a wider audience, and partly because that’s his style — to be measured and detached) ... Peter Heehs’ The Lives of Sri Aurobindo from The Stumbling Mystic by ned [8:40 AM 11:17 AM] 2 comments:

Anonymous said...
"Measured and Detatched" - Sorry "Ned" - Peter Heehs does not come through measured or detatched. His personal venom and disdain for Sri Aurobindo and especially the Mother is evident in his words. Recently I heard a recording of his interview. It seemed like he enjoyed raising laughs talking derogatorily about the Mother (he speaks about he stopped Sri Aurobindo from smoking). He successfully made his fawning audience break into giggles. Well, you speak authoritatively about what Peter Heehs WANTED. Please refer the reading public to examples of his declared intentions. 11:51 AM, October 20, 2008

Anonymous said...
Well, Ned, judging from the very standards that you, Peter and the rationalist luminaries have set out (admitting no spiritual parameters) - Peter comes through as PATHETIC. India is going through a difficult phase - the Hindutva brigade is waiting to usurp every thing and make it their political agenda. The Ashram Trustees have innumerable problems right now.

Peter Heehs owes a responsibility to Sri Aurobindo Ashram. He owes a responsibility to INDIA where he has lived for decades. Or is an "objective" rational writer exempt from all moral and ethical responsibilities? What do you have to say to that? Peter Heehs has put the Ashram in a terrible spot and the Trustees are finally to face the consequences of his actions. It is not whether he is right or wrong - the point is he has been irresponsible and why blame the "mob" if it resorts to stupidity - it is up to the more enlightened one to desist from actions that cause so much of divisions within a fine family.

How is he better than RYD who caused "hatred". Peter Heehs as someone else has commented should have the temerity to quit on his own and make a public statement absolving the Ashram of all blame. Now the trustees are being blamed. Dont they have problems of their own. Peter will have to face the karmic consequences of his action of being so irresponsible. 12:20 PM, October 20, 2008 Post a Comment Links Heehs' personal venom and disdain for Sri Aurobindo and especially ...

October 17, 2008

Heehs' contributions, as far the work in the Archives, are indeed praiseworthy

Pranabda, 05/10/08

A petition in the form of a signature campaign was hand-delivered to me on 02-10-08. I have no quarrel with the contents of the said petition. But what shocked me and pained me most was to find that your name should figure as one of the signatories.

Pranabda, right from my childhood, when I first met you in 1942, till the present day, I have had the privilege and good fortune to be the recipient of your love and affection. It is on the strength of this relationship that I would have expected that if ever you found me failing in my duty or going astray, you would have called me in person and as an elder brother to a younger brother asked me for an explanation of my conduct. But I am sorry to say, that in the present circumstance you have not done so, instead you have fallen prey to the signature campaigns for reasons best known to you.

It is my firm conviction that a signature campaign is not the right modus operandi for finding solution to the problems of our collective life in the Ashram. If this becomes the general trend in the Ashram, I shudder to think what will be our future – another Auroville (!) with Government, finally taking over the administration?!

Sri Aurobindo, has clearly stated “…you must also understand that there is only one power at work and neither you nor he not anybody else matters. Let each open himself to the working of that power in him and let there be no attempt at forming a body of sadhaks with somebody leading or intervening between the one power and the sadhaks.”

I shall now address myself to the controversy that is raging with respect to PH’s book.
Let me first tell you that several days back when on hearsay I came to know that when x had broached this subject, you had advised him to remain silent and call the Mother and that you had even added: ‘At one time I used to be angry with the boy (PH) but now I feel sorry for him.’ – This bit of news gave me a sense of great relief, because it corresponded more or less to my line of thinking.
Pranabda, I have tried to put down my thoughts concerning more on the controversy than on the book itself, I am sending you a copy for what it is worth.
I shall now enumerate a few corrective measures that we have initiated (and some more on the anvil) so that any further controversy of this sort may be avoided:

1) Instructions have been given, saying that no material whatever should go out of the Archives Dept. without the written consent of the Managing Trustee.
2) Notice has been put up stating that a committee of six persons (Bob, Kiran Kakkad, Medhna, Pattegarji, Richard and Shanta) will henceforth oversee the day today functioning of the Dept. All major decisions should be submitted to the Trust Board for approval.
3) Legal aspects are being looked into as to whether the Indian publication may be at least modified if not stalled, PH, on his own has assured me that he shall try, within the limits and constraints as they exist, to modify where possible some of the passages. According to him, he didn’t imagine that the response to his work among a certain group of people would be so violent and expressed his regrets for being the “cause” .
4) Experts advice sought for in order to ascertain whether the Ashram, can in any way be held responsible for the said publication. If yes, what preventive measure should we need to take (PH has clearly indicated in the acknowledgements of his book that “Sri Aurobindo Ashram is in no way responsible for the selection, arrangement, interpretation of the material in this biography. The another author alone is responsible for the contents of the book”)

Pranabda, My personal assessment of PH, in the context of this book (I may be totally wrong) is as follows: He may not have had a malafide intention as such to denigrate Sri Aurobindo.
Unfortunately; he was so obsessed with the anti-hagiography idea that in order to prove his credentials to be an “objective” (does such a thing really exist!) biographer, he has at several places crossed all limits of simple decency!

My present dilemma is this: If our intention is that this book becomes of what we consider to be its potential danger, should reach as few readers as possible, then, whether any public denunciation will help to achieve our goal? Or, on the contrary, it will only make PH instead a martyr like Rusdie, Taslima, etc. and the publisher would be only too eager to exploit the situation in order to promote its sales! I have no answer to the above dilemma.

One more point which makes me hesitate to take any drastic action is the fact that the Mother had given her tacit approval to Jayantilalda when he informed her, through Champaklalji, that PH would be working with him in the new Archives Department. Mother had seen PH. This was in 1971. PH has spent 37 years of the best part of his youth in the department and his contributions, as far the work in the Archives (as distinct from the writing of his own books which is not the work assigned, to him by the Archives Dept.) are indeed praiseworthy.

My personal inclination is therefore more towards maintaining a dignified silence, at least for the time being, and praying to the Mother. I always try to remember and follow Mother’s advice to me:

“Et, en fin de compte, il est toujours préférable de ne pas prendre de décision arbitraire pour on contre les choses et de regarder les évènements se dérouler, avec l’impartialité du témoin, s’en remettant à la Sagesse Divine, qui, Elle, décidera pour le mieux et fera le nécessaire.”
(English translation: And, in the last analysis, it is always preferable not to take arbitrary decisions against things but to watch the unfolding events impartially like a witness, relying on the Divine Wisdom, that, She, will decide for the best and do the necessary.)

Pranabda, I hope and pray that you will not take amiss this missive of mine. I have tried to be as frank and straight forward as possible. You yourself have been asking example of these virtues.
With deep love and respect,
In Her Love,
Sd/- (Manoj Das Gupta)

Sad rejection and aggressive hostility

Re: Corrections to textual excerpts of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs
by Debashish on Thu 16 Oct 2008 09:24 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link

V: ...in this case of spiritual look I am totally Indian.

DB: I wonder where I could go to get my "spiritual look" authenticated?

But in a more serious vein, the issue of cultural representation is more important and interesting. There seem to be accumulated responses of taste here. During the period of the Indian nationalist struggle, this in fact became one of the major stakes for distinction of identity. The Greco-Roman Gandhara Buddha was preferred by the western critics for its naturalism. Coomaraswamy would argue that the less naturalistic, more "ideal" Mathura images were more authentic to the Indian consciousness. Sri Aurobindo's response to Archer is also keyed along similar lines. In fact, this becomes in some ways the cornerstone of his argument for national freedom from colonial rule - the right to express its own subjective tastes free from the standards and constraints of alien subjection.

Perhaps a touch of the same argument has entered into the debate here. Of course, this "debate" is marked by a host of other not so civil or reflective arguments and so I can attribute only a hint of these more thoughtful matters. But it is worth a consideration. In drawing out the difference between hagiography and biography, Peter makes use of the analogy of the divergence between touched-up photos and naturalistic ones. He makes clear his taste for the naturalistic photo. It is possible that the person claiming the "Indian spiritual look" may pitch his taste for the "subjective" touched-up one. It's interesting though, that in the genre of portrait painting, I have yet to come across a "subjective" interpretation of Sri Aurobindo or the Mother. It seems here that the closer to reality the painting, the truer to the "divine image." But then, if this "reality" betrays any "physiological blemishes", it is not considered satisfying.

If there is anything to these cultural histories of taste, then we have to ask the question as to whether these are unchanging essences and "never the twain shall meet" or whether they can be related or even synthesized? And if the second is possible, is there only one way to relate and synthesize them or many?

Contemporary western art practice also grapples with issues of this kind. The mid-19th c. saw a wholesale rejection of "naturalism" in art in favor of "subjectivism." But contemporary practice has come to assert that the "naturalistic" or "illusionistic" is no less subjective than the "expressionistic." The photographic signifier hides and discloses the subjective signified.

Our practices of reading have tuned to an objective-subjective taste as a result. This indeed is one kind of synthesis and I find the Lives of Sri Aurobindo very successful in this regard. I find no lack of "spiritual look" in it, just another kind of representation which bridges the eastern and western tropes in one way. Perhaps our friends with the so-called "Indian look" can try to do the same in their own way, instead of this sad rejection and aggressive hostility? DB Reply 12:07 PM 11:11 AM

October 15, 2008

Lewis noted the stupidity of making men without chests and then demanding virtue and enterprise from them

The Abolition of Man from Thoughts, Books, and Philosophy by jhbowden
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins, 2001)

Lewis wrote that the purpose of a liberal education was not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts. The traditionalists wanted to initiate young people into the mystery of life. They also wanted to inspire participation, and were interested in cultural propagation. The progressive teaching molds people for the purposes of which the molded know nothing. Instead of propagation, we have propaganda. Instead of participation, we have repudiation.

People constantly complain that our civilization needs more citizens with priorities and initiative. Well, Lewis noted the stupidity of making men without chests and then demanding virtue and enterprise from them. We laugh at honor, and then act shocked that there are traitors in our midst.

We cannot debunk everything. That is the main lesson of this book. Explaining everything entails that we explain away the very idea of explanation itself. Much of our mental furniture must be accepted as a datum. For as Lewis concludes, “To 'see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”

Loyalty to our Lord and Master demands staying calm, let the cyclone pass

Re: Corrections to textual excerpts of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs
by Rich on Tue 14 Oct 2008 07:24 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link

Vladimir I am actually not sure what it is you mean here aka pro or con, this book however two comments: on the following:

1) And this is what I can say about them: [...] Everyone will come to their own particular interpretation, even those who assert they know the "truth" it is simply (especially when they try to communicate this) merely their own interpretation of the "truth" and there is simply no escaping that.

2) The alternative of pretending to be objective is simply pretending to be subjective. By the above definition they would both be sheer falsehoods. But again this sheer falsehood would be based on one's interpretation of what "Falsehood" is. For me personally perpetrating violence against the author in emotional and physical forms, that has occurred (and is accelerating) to date fits my own interpretation of what falsehood is. Rich

Re: Corrections to textual excerpts of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs
by Rich on Tue 14 Oct 2008 07:20 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link

DB wrote: Unless one reads the entire work, one cannot understand the intent and the place or even the meaning of any quote. I have read the book. I disagree completely with the view that the author has tried to make Sri Aurobindo into "an ordinary human being in the name of smaller truths."

Well how many of those who signed the petition against the book have actually have read the book? I have been told it is not likely that the vast majority of the multitude who have given their signatures on these documents for the authors ex-communication have even read the entire book.

Vlad, I agree with Deb, and I would be surprised if you did not also concur, that there has to be a minimum standard for a critical reading of a book. Merely a struggling through some pages, passages, or decontextualized fragments that have been contested, does not constitute a fair reading of any scholarly work, especially a work as complex as a biography as Sri Aurobindo's.

Reply Re: Corrections to textual excerpts of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs
by Debashish on Tue 14 Oct 2008 08:27 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link

The vast majority of the multitude? I'm told by reliable sources that not even the ringleaders have read the book. And yet their opinions and quotations are "echoing and reechoing through the corridors of cyberspace" (to adapt C.R. Das' words re. Sri Aurobindo). DB

Reply Re: Corrections to textual excerpts of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs
by koantum on Tue 14 Oct 2008 07:58 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link

At the risk of repeating myself:
When I hear of a righteous wrath, I wonder at man's capacity for self-deception. (Sri Aurobindo, Essays Divine and Human, p. 429 = Thoughts and Aphorisms, Jnana, # 52.)

As long as we are angry, furious, outraged, annoyed, irritated, infuriated, incensed, resentful, indignant... we are all - everyone of us - on the side of the Falsehood. Loyalty to our Lord and Master demands staying calm, let the cyclone pass, let it go, let go... peace, peace, peace... Reply

October 14, 2008

The humanities ultimately are formative, not informative

The Culture We Deserve
from Thoughts, Books, and Philosophy by jhbowden

Barzun asserted that art and culture do not belong in a university, in the sense that the university is not their natural home. Great art is meant to be fun. The words amateur and dilettante, which have been turned into words of contempt, in their original sense meant “lover” and “seeker of delight.” Before 1850, after all, there weren’t any subjects and courses to instruct a lover of the arts. Few even believed the arts should be studied in the spirit of the sciences. Rather than methods and theories, the arts presuppose what Pascal called esprit de finesse, an intuitive understanding that seizes upon the character of its object as a whole...

A history, Barzun argued, is a piece of writing meant to be read. History, by showing the heroic side in man side by side with the vile, exercises our imagination and furnishes it. A good history shows the movers and shakers because if we delete them, the story is missing from the history. Too often an enterprising historian will try to make a name for himself by imposing an original idea upon events, a single cause. However, the presence or absence of particular individuals, along with sheer contingencies, both make a difference to the outcome of events; Barzun warned us not to miss the motive power nor the accidents interwoven in the passage of time. History is a product of acts of intelligence, will, and self-interest; things like the Colt revolver and barbed wire simply do not appear out of the ether.

History extends our experience by building an intuition of what is likely and what is important. After all, the humanities ultimately are formative, not informative; they organize our minds and make us attentive to the world. Relativist in the true sense of the word, the humanities link and relate the human soul to the rest of existence. The humanities broaden our horizons by giving us a taste of the philosophic atmosphere and historical perspective. As William James roughly described it, a liberal education allows us to know a good man when we see him; it is not only important for man to have skill, but to be a judge of skill, particularly of other men. Jacques Barzun, The Culture We Deserve (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1989)

October 13, 2008

We need to work through this moment in time as an aspiring Gnostic community

Re: Corrections to textual excerpts of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs
by Rick Lipschutz on Sun 12 Oct 2008 07:03 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link Science, Culture and Integral Yoga

As I understand it, in responding to an intellectual position taken by another, an approach practiced and favored by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother begins with this premise:

Not only all forms and forces, but all thoughts, chains of ideas and works of reason, have behind them, are ultimately based on some truth. This truth has real existence, in the Absolute and in the Saccidananda and, however changed, diminished, distorted it may have grown from the original, any idea of any coherence derives from some basis in truth.

What Sri Aurobindo will often do, in his writings, is express clearly a thought, idea, and chain of reasoning and demonstrate what truth is trying, through such ideas, to be expressed. There is, for example, some truth in Materialism that is aspiring to be realized in life. Sri Aurobindo will then go to express another truth, which may be at apparent odds with the first (There is a truth in Spirituality that presses to materialize), showing clearly how both truths—may be even multiple truths—are striving for living expression, and he will proceed to suggest a more comprehensive truth that assimilates the principal elements in each, reaching in this way some expanded synthesis only partially contained in the various elements of seemingly contradictory truths. He will do this using perfectly well the outward form of mental reasoning, but applying from behind it a wider view based on amore comprehensive or intuitive mode of perceptive understanding.

What he will NOT do is what we human beings always seem to want to do. We always find ourselves saying: This is wrong! I don't agree, I don't like its expression, it's simply not true; maybe it's a deliberate lie, on the basis of some hostile agenda, but it is most certainly false, pernicious even. I don't accept it and I in fact question the very motives of the person who puts forth this pernicious form of expression.

The Mother said more than once that when we disagree with another person's position, a healthy exercise is to identify with that exponent and their position sufficiently so that we can express their side of the issue. This can be a means to broaden our viewpoint, help us not only relate to the other person but strengthen our mental faculties, our understanding, and if we have enough aspiration, reach a greater truth than ours or the other's alone.

I have read in full Peter Heehs's book, "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo," and met with him when he came to San Francisco giving readings and discussing his work. I found he added to my understanding and appreciation of Sri Aurobindo—not only in his life before Pondicherry, but after his great realizations: the Silent Brahman, the Cosmic Consciousness that he entered in the Alipur jail, the Parabrahman realization, the Overmental Realization and through the entire arc of his earthy life. I have adeeper sense now how Sri Aurobindo, by the power of yoga, transformed a human consciousness into an integral divine consciousness. And in respect to his Integral Yoga, which is my principal focus (I was recently co-facilitating a Synthesis of Yoga study group and plan to resume it) the book afforded me stronger hope that humans like myself can make progress on this difficult and thorny path.

Sri Aurobindo struggled with human problems, family problems, national problems; found a way through Integral Yoga to surmount them for himself and even to bring into the world a greater force so that others individually and collectively and the nations and the earth itself have a more certain hope, or at least the main chance, to transform our ignorance and struggling lives into something divine. I venerate Purani's biography, I love and enjoy what I've read of Iyengar's, have deep respect for Van Vrekhem's, but I feel there is room for "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo."

I feel his approach to a critical, scholarly work based on a great deal of research, directed to the scholarly and academic community, is a potent form of inoculation against inevitable intellectual attacks to come. After all, Sri Aurobindo and Mother are not only for devotees, and for much-needed karma yogis; they're also for intellectuals, those with a more mental bent—and an integral Yoga must include in it and integrate the heart, the will, the mind and more, in a "methodized effort towards self-perfection."

I am distressed at the personal invective in the attacks on a hard-working scholar and sadhak whose love for Sri Aurobindo shines clearly through the work, if from under the surface.. He is a good writer and, I feel, a sound scholar who has done much original research.

Peter's work, and that of others, in unearthing and bringing to light the "Record of Yoga" (Sri Aurobindo's own diary of his yogic experience) has shown the world that Sri Aurobindo experimented as much or more than any scientist and attempted to realize (and by his own, remarkably self-consistent account, succeeded in realizing) what he wrote about for the sadhaks and the the public.

It is so disappointing, so dismaying to see so many luminaries whom I respect so much attacking a sadhak who has devoted his life to needed scholarship, and attacking him in such a personal un-Aurobindonian fashion. "I could feel my eyes turning into dust/Like two strangers turning into dust."

I find it hard to believe what I've been seeing. We need to work through this moment in time as an aspiring Gnostic community, however far from a functioning collectivity we still seem to be. This chaotic episode is an opportunity for us to begin again to try to put forward our opinions in an Aurobindonian fashion, respecting the truth that is expressed in another position, trying with the Mother's help to bring it into harmony with our own positions, or showing with logic, respect and fairness where we believe it falls short. This would be the least we can do, as human beings discoursing with other human beings, as well as followers of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo who aspire for a divine life for the earth, based on liberty, mutuality and harmony.

Let me add here that I have been a grateful reader on the SCIY website but have not yet posted. I appreciate the postings of Debashish, Ronjon, Rich, Vladimir, Rakesh, Ned, all the many others. We all have to realize that there are real and still-potent forces that WANT us to clash just as we've been doing, fall into anambush, so to speak. If we have the aspiration, if we can summon it back, there are greater more conscious forces that are leading, even as we speak, to a multi-poised Unity that has infinite room in it for the diversity of our approaches. Rick Lipschutz

October 10, 2008

Rousseau ultimately arrived at a secular version of Calvinism

Thoughts, Books, and Philosophy The Critical Synopses of J.H. Bowden Home About
Freedom and Its Betrayal Isaiah Berlin, Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005)

Freedom and Its Betrayal presented six portraits of thinkers, five progressives and one conservative, who opposed human liberty. Berlin skillfully identified each philosopher’s central vision of life, that is, life as it should be. The selected progressives– Helvetius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, and Saint-Simon, each begin by championing human liberty, only to end with a principle or system opposing it. The token conservative, Maistre, consistently opposed liberty.

Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715-1771), a key thinker of the Enlightenment by being the grandfather of all utilitarian systems, sought to be the Newton of politics. Helvétius looked at mankind relationally, physically, and geometrically; each man is an unit of natural propensities gravitating toward various pleasures and satisfactions. Man only has barriers to realizing his inclinations because of his superstitions, errors, and ignorance. Starting with the assumption that man is a pliable blank slate, Helvétius believed in the transformative powers of education and laws. This vision contained an elite of scientists fusing rationalism, materialism, and hedonism into a comprehensive plan employing sticks and carrots; they would create the automatic production of happiness, a frictionless society. Helvétius was the true author of Brave New World.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) believed liberty was an absolute value that could not be compromised. Rousseau, a citizen of Calvinist Geneva, did not see happiness as the goal of life. Man needs to live the right kind of life, to be a man, living as a free human. Man must be autonomous; Rousseau believed in spontaneity, authenticity, and the simple life over expertise, specialization, and refinement. Rousseau also believed Reason united man. The irrational should never dominate the rational, which implies that man requires a rational system of government. Since truth is one, and error is multiple, if everyone is rational, they will arrive at the same solution. Rousseau ultimately arrived at a secular version of Calvinism– the rules of life are not conventions. Rousseau squared liberty with obedience by claiming it was natural to love rationally chosen conventions; self-mastery is freedom. It is natural to be good. Rousseau’s ideal polity resembles a team or a Church– one submerges oneself in the general will in order to find one’s rational, true self. Rousseau institutionalized the idea that if others disagree with us, and our ideas are rationally chosen, others really don’t know their own good and we are authorized to act on their behalf.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) sought to defend autonomy against an hostile outer world. The Germans were frequently preyed upon by external powers, and suffered at the hands of internal repression as well. Fichte reinterpreted liberty as a positive idea, living up to an inner ideal– autonomy for Fichte means that one is acting, not being acted upon. Fichte also had a theological conception of the self where man only becomes a man among other men. Morality is an activity, and man is self-created when overcoming empirical resistance. Just as Fichte’s individual must affirm what is transcendental and repress what is lower, the race and the nation must take the same action. Power, conquest, and freedom become one.

October 09, 2008

It is one of the cardinal principles of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy that intuitions differ very much in value


Sri Aurobindo as a true descendant of our ancient sages, has kept true to this standpoint. He looks at the whole universe from the standpoint of the highest consciousness, which he calls Sachchidananda. Unlike the Greeks, who oscillated between the naturalistic and the idealistic interpretation of the universe, Sri Aurobindo looks upon the naturalistic interpretation itself as one that is made from the standponit of consciousness at one stage of its evolution. Paradoxical as it may sound, even the idealistic interpretation is made from the standpoint of the same level of consciousness. This level is what we call mental consciousness. Mind is incapable of framing a perfect synthesis, and therefore, all its constructions exhibit gaps or contradictions. Even the intuitions of Plato had not completely freed themselves from mental elements, and therefore, there was a clash between them and his logic or reason. How this standpoint enables Sri Aurobindo to steer dear of the difficulties of Plato's philosophy, I shall explain in the next paragraph.


Plato's philosophy, thus, is haunted by a sense of its incompleteness: its intuition and reason cannot be reconciled with each other. This is its great tragedy.

  • It may be removed by lowering the intuitions, by doing away, for example, with the idea of good. This was the solution offered by Aristotle. He did away with the idea of good, the philosopher-king and all the other great ideals revealed by Plato's intuition.
  • Or the remedy may be applied to logic by raising it so that it may be made a fit vehicle for the intuitions. This second method was that which was adopted by Hegel.

Sri Aurobindo's solution is totally different from either of these. He avoids Plato's tragedy not by lowering the intuitions, nor by raising the logic, but by still further raising the intuitions. His diagnosis of Plato's tragedy is that it is due to Plato's having imperfect intuitions. The intuitions that Plato had were inutitions of abstract truths, and therefore did not have the potency to project themselves out of themselves. The highest intuitions create their own logic and do not have to wait for logic to come up to their level.

It is one of the cardinal principles of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy that intuitions differ very much in value. This is one of the main points of difference between Sri Aurobindo and most of those Western philosophers who also rely partly or wholly upon intuitions. Whatever that may be, it 'is undoubtedly true, from Sri Aurobindo's point of view, that Plato's intuitions were imperfect, as they were intuitions of abstract truth. His idea of good, grand as it is, is yet nothing but an ab- straction. It is impossible with such a principle to have any kind of rela- tionship with the world of sensible experience. It is dead before it is born, and it is useless to try to make it work by offering it a more suitable logic. The only remedy is to raise it to the position of a concrete universal.


One of the most serious defects in Plato's theory of ideas is that the ideas as he conceives them are absolutely static and have no power of generation or creation. It is only the souls that have got this power, and therefore God as the highest soul performs the functions of creation in his philosophy. One consequence of this static view of the ideas is that they cannot bring themselves into any sort of connection with the world of sense. The only way in which a connection is effected is through the agency of God. But the God of Plato is only an underdog, having the power to create only according to the pattern seen in the ideas. Thus the connection between the idfeas and the world created by God is a somewhat remote one. In the case of the human world it is still more remote, for God does not create it directly but leaves it to the inferior powers. This g ; ves the human world a much lower status than what it would have if it had direct connection with the ideas. Although it is supposed to participate in the ideas, such participation can only be very imperfect. This defect we notice also in other systems of philosophy which take a similar static view of their ultimate principle.

For instance, we notice it in the philosophy of Spinoza whose Substance or ultimate principle is also, like the ideas of Plato, static. There is no passage in Spinoza from Subs- tance to the world of modes or finite beings, and he has therefore to fall back upon all sorts of devices, such as that of infinite modes, in order to bridge the gulf between the two. We notice it also in the philosophy of Hartmann who has borrowed his main ideas from Plato: the values of Hartmann cannot bring themselves directly into contact with the world. Another consequence of his static view of the ideas is that Plato has no theory of evolution. There is no goal or destination towards which the world may be said to be moving. Individual souls can, of course, imporve themselves by education, and if they are sufficiently enlightened, they can, through instruction in dialectic, have even a vision of the idea of good, but there is nothing in Plato which gives us any indication of the whole world marching to a higher goal. On the contrary, the nature of the world has been determined beforehand by the manner of its creation, and con- sequently the possibility of such advance is ruled out. We shall discuss this question when dealing with the problem of evil.


The contrast here with Sri Aurobindo's philosophy is striking. His theory of evolution is the pivot round which the whole philosophy of Sri Aurobindo moves. Evolution is the movement which is the reverse of the movement of involution or creation. It is because of the descent of the Spirit into matter, life and mind, that these can ascend to the higher regions of the Spirit. Because the Spirit in creation has involved itself in matter, life and mind, therefore, matter, life and mind feel an impulse to rise to their Source. Evolution, thus, is a sort of home-sickness of the Spirit. The Spirit has descended into the lowest particle of matter; therefore, matter seeks to evolve into something higher than itself, namely life. There is a descent of the Spirit into life, and therefore, life seeks to rise to some- thing higher than itself mind. Similarly, there is a descent of the Spirit into mind;, and consequently mind must ascend to something higher than itself, namely, Supermind. The highest principle so far evolved is mind. But evolution cannot stop with mind^ for mind is not its last word. It must move further up and come to the next stage, namely, Supermind. There is no uncertainty about it: it is bound to do so by the necessity which is forced upon it by the process of involution or creation. But when it does so, there will be a radical change in the nature of the world, for with the emergence of Supermind the process of evolution becomes a process through knowledge, the previous process being through ignorance.

Such, in brief, is Sri Aurobindo's scheme of evolution. It is the most optimistic scheme ever conceived by the mind of man. What concerns us more particularly here, however, is the picture which it presents to us of the goal of human life and society. I cannot do better here than quote a passage from his recent book The Human Cycle, where it is set forth as clearly as possible:

"The true and full spiritual aim in society will regard man not as a mind, a life and a body, but as a soul incarnated for a divine fulfilment upon earth, not only in heavens beyond, which after all it need not have left if it had no divine business here in the world of physical, vital and mental nature. It will therefore regard the life, mind and body neither as ends in themselves, sufficient for their own satisfaction, not as mortal members full of disease which have only to be dropped off for the rescued spirit to flee away into its own pure regions, but as first instruments of the soul, the yet imperfect instruments of an unseized diviner purpose. It will believe in their destiny and help them to believe in themselves, but for that very reason in their highest and not only in their lowest or lower possibilities. Their destiny will be, in its view, to spiritualise themselves so as to grow into visible members of the spirit, lucid means of its manifestation, them- selves spiritual, illumined, more and more conscious and perfect. For accepting the truth of man's soul as a thing entirely divine in its essence, it will accept also the possibility of his whole being becoming divine in spite of Nature's first patent contradictions of this possibility, her darkened denials of this ultimate certitude, and even with these as a necessary earthly starting-point. And as it will regard man the individual, it will regard man the collectivity as a soul-form of the Infinite, a collective soul myriadly embodied upon earth for a divine fulfilment in its manifold relations and its multitudinous activities. Therefore it will hold sacred all the different parts &f man's life which correspond to the parts of his being, all his physical, vital, dynamic, emotional, aesthetic, ethical, intellectual, psychic evolution, and see in them instruments for a growth towards a diviner living. It will regard every human society, nation, people or other organic aggregate from the same standpoint, subsouls, as it were, means of a complex manifestation and self-fulfilment of the Spirit, the divine Reality, the conscious Infinite in man upon earth. The possible godhead of man because he is inwardly of one being with God will be its one solitary cree

“Auditory imagination” is the feeling for syllable and rhythm

“Auditory imagination”, by T.S. Eliot
from The Daily Goose by Matthew
This is a passage of Eliot’s that is often reflected upon by Marshall McLuhan:

What I call the “auditory imagination” is the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word: sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to the origin and bringing something back, seeking the beginning and the end. It works through meanings, certainly, or not without meanings in the ordinary sense, and fuses the old and the obliterated, and the trite, the current, and the new and the surprising, the most ancient and most civilized mentality.

In other words, integral consciousness:

. . . If John Dewey is right, and in each of the great works of art are rooted in everyday experience that emerge through several factors as a unity of profound experience, then let our own experiences as working artists swim in the integral tradition, and let our creative works respond to the waves that call forth the timeless dilemmas of human condition, no matter our technological acuity. Let us be humble to our Humanities tradition, so that our works can boldly unify old and new, as living intuition that, when properly rooted, never actually dies. And let it not be theory, but the creative works of the Humanities and especially the arts, that are truly metaphysical.

October 03, 2008

Aakash Singh and Rimina Mohapatra lay out the intricate tapestry of Hegel’s thought

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Reading Hegel: The Introductions
G.W.F. Hegel Edited and introduced by Aakash Singh and Rimina Mohapatra
Price: $35.00 AUD$25.00 USD £16.00 GBP
ISBN-13: 978-0-9805440-1-5 (paper) Publication date: October 2008 Pages: 272 Format: 234x156 mm (6x9 in) Paperback Series: Transmission
Download book as PDF (Open Access)

Bringing together for the first time all of G.W.F. Hegel’s major Introductions in one place, this book ambitiously attempts to present readers with Hegel’s systematic thought through his Introductions alone. The Editors articulate to what extent, precisely, Hegel’s Introductions truly reflect his philosophic thought as a whole. Certainly each of Hegel’s Introductions can stand alone, capturing a facet of his overarching idea of truth. But compiled all together, they serve to lay out the intricate tapestry of Hegel’s thought, woven with a dialectic that progresses from one book to another, one philosophical moment to another.

Hegel’s reflections on philosophy, religion, aesthetics, history, and law—all included here—have profoundly influenced many subsequent thinkers, from post-Hegelian idealists or materialists like Karl Marx, to the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre; from the phenomenological tradition of Edmund Husserl to Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida and other post-moderns, to thinkers farther afield, like Japan’s famous Kyoto School or India’s Aurobindo. This book provides the opportunity to discern how the ideas of these later thinkers may have originally germinated in Hegel’s writings, as well as to penetrate Hegel’s worldview in his own words, his grand architecture of the journey of the Spirit.

Editors’ Introduction: The Circle of Knowledge Chapter 1: Phenomenology of Spirit Chapter 2: Science of Logic Chapter 3: Philosophy of Right Chapter 4: Philosophy of History Chapter 5: Philosophy of Fine Art Chapter 6: Philosophy of Religion Chapter 7: History of Philosophy Editors’ Epilogue: The End of Introductions Further Readings Index

Authors, editors and contributors
AAKASH SINGH is a Research Professor at the Centre for Ethics and Global Politics (Luiss University, Rome), specializing in International Legal and Political Philosophy. He is author of Eros Turannos, and Editor of several books, including Buddhism and the Contemporary World: An Ambedkarian Perspective, and L’Inde à la conquete de la liberté.

RIMINA MOHAPATRA is an MPhil graduate from the University of Delhi, and completed her MA in Philosophy from St. Stephen’s College. She has been a Junior Research Fellow, University Grants Commission of India and a Junior Specialist at the Department of Philosophy, University of California Santa Cruz. She is currently formulating and compiling a second collection of Hegel’s writings, to be published in 2009.
© 2008 re.press