February 27, 2009

The "supreme" vak is associated with the root cakra, muladhara

The Question of the Status of the World in Advaita Vedanta
from Gaia Community: kelamuni's Blog

For the most part, Shankara tows the party line of the Vedanta: the world has brahman as its cause. But he also says that the world arises out of what he calls "unmanifest name and form." Structurally, this parallels the Samkhya's idea of prakriti forming the basis of the world. But Shankara wants to have it both ways here. He wants to support the brahmanic orthodoxy, but he also wants to make use of several ideas that have their basis in the unorthodox schools, the Samkhya and the Mahayana schools in particular. After Shankara, the later Advaitins will assert that maya or avidya is the cause of the world, or that brahman in conjuntion with avidya is the cause of the world. Shankara does not speak this way. For him avidya is an "epistemic" principle only; we might say that it is only "metaphysical" to the degree that it is involved in our conceptual construction of the world, that is, to the degree that it is the root of the transcendental illusion.

As we noted, Shankara is able to have it both ways by ranking "realism" and "illusionism." Now there are some interpreters who have argued that Shankara is actually more of a "realist." As I noted before, I think that we are justified in saying so as long as by "realism" we mean something like the realism of the ancients. Those who argue that Shankara is more of a realist in the general sense do so on the following three grounds: 1. on the basis of the interpretation of "ananyatva" that takes it as saying, "the world is real insofar as it exists in brahman"; 2. on the basis that the world does not "dissolve" with realization; 3. and on the basis that the world "becomes" brahman with realization.

Now, the first two of these arguments can be challenged. The first can be shown to be a propaedeutic view. And the second does not necessarily imply anything, other than the fact that the Advaitins were not pralaya-vadins (who thought the world and the mind "dissolve" with realization). The third point, though, is interesting. It refers to a single tract in Shankara's works, the comments on Brhad Upanishad 2.4.12. There the Upanishad refers to dissolution of the world into the "Mahabhuta" or great reality. Shankara comments that when discrimination arises "the world becomes one without a second" and "merges" with the Mahabhuta. He concretizes this idea saying that this means that one's separate existence dissappears and one returns to the "womb" or own-source (yoni). (In a similar way, at the end of chapter 3 of the Gaudapada Karikas, we read that all dharmas are "always already" non-dual and inherently quiescent.) But the language of "merging" used in the above is metaphoric for Shankara, so I don't think this final point stands scrutiny either.

At the same time, it is necessary to point out that there is indeed a pronounced "realist" streak in Shankara's writings (at least in those writings that were written after the commentary on the GK). Time and again he rejects the "idealist" arguments of the Yogacharins, and he continually refers to brahman as a "vastu" or real thing. More importantly, following an unnamed master referred to at the beginning of the Brahma Sutra commentary, he emphasizes that for the practitioner, the world is real until realization occurs.

A Commentary on The Play of Consciousness, Pt II
from Gaia Community: kelamuni's Blog

We have already touched briefly upon early conceptions of personal eschatology and proto-soteriology in Vedic religion, and we can now relate some of those conceptions to Indian conceptions of cosmology. On page 135 of his book, Muktananda mentions Indra-loka. Vedic mythology speaks of the world of Indra, or Indra-loka and it appears also in later mythology; in the Mahabharata, for example, Arjuna travels to Indra-loka. By Indra-loka is meant, more or less, Svarga, the Vedic "heaven". It is often depicted as sitting atop mount Meru, the "axis mundi" of the Vedic cosmology. It serves as the home of the gods -- much like mount Olympus in Greek mythology -- and as an abode for the blest in the afterlife. [...]

We can see in the classification of the three worlds -- the worlds of men, forefathers, and gods -- an instance of the Indian penchant for triads and tripartite divisions. An even older conception also makes use of a tripartite division. The oldest Vedic texts refer to three domains: an underworld populated by Ashuras, a middle world populated by men, and a celestial world populated by the gods or devas. Yet another conception of three worlds describes a celestial realm, an earthly realm, and an intermediate realm. Brhad Up 5.5.3-4 describes these three worlds in relation to the cosmic person. It says, "bhur is its head, bhuvar is its arms, and svar is its feet." These three terms refer to the three lokas of Brahmanic lore. "Bhu" refers to the earthly world or Bhu-loka. "Bhuvar" refers to the intermediate realm of the air, that is, to the "atmosphere" which is known as Bhuvar-loka. Bhuvar loka, which is between the earth and sky, is said to be a world populated by semi-divine (cf. daemonic) munis and siddhas. "Svar" refers to the celestial realm, Svar-loka, which is the same as Svarga, heaven, or Indra-loka. It corresponds to the sky and is populated by gods. At some point in history, various other lokas are added to these three. The next to be added is Mahar-loka, which is said be populated by Brghu and other saints who survive the periodic dissolution of the lower worlds. Taittiriya 1.5.1 says, "Besides these three, the seer Mahacamasya knew a fourth, called Mahar." Eventually, two more worlds are added to these four: Jana-loka, a term that refers not to a world populated by sexy Kiwi babes but to Brahma's sons; and Tapar-loka, in which deified Vairagyins dwell. Atop all of these is Satya-loka, otherwise known as Brahma-loka, the highest of the lokas, and for some, the domain of release. Eventually, the Indian tradition settles with these seven worlds. Muktananda speaks of a "Siddha-loka" but as we can see here, this could refer to any of the lokas above Bhu-loka.

The Basic Tripartite Structure of Vedanta: We can now return to what is perhaps the best known of the metaphysical triads in the Indian tradition, the division between the gross, subtle, and causal. The three states of consciousness are actually the original basis of this division. Descriptions of the three states occur in various places in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. Initially, a contrast was developed between the waking state and the state of deep dreamless sleep. This pairing functioned as a kind of metaphor for the polarity between life and death, with deep dreamless sleep acting as a kind of analog or foreshadowing of the "sleep" of death. Dreaming initially appears as a kind of mediating or "daemonic" third term, a kind of metaphor for the imaginal realm situated between the two, not quite one or the other. [...]

In the Chandogya, the "fourth" self functions as a kind of transcendental ground of the other selves. Although he vacillates somewhat on this point, Shankara generally agrees with Kant, and says that the transcendental self cannot be an object of experience since it is the transcendental condition of experience as such. In terms of turiya, this idea is referred to in Advaita via the dictum that turiya is not a state among other states but the "truth" of the rest. And yet in the Gaudapada Karikas, and elsewhere, this "fourth" begins to be treated as if it were some kind of "state" of consciousness. Karika 1.15 definitely refers to turiya as a "pada", not in the Mandukya Upanishad's sense of a metaphoric "part" of the self, but in the sense of a "state" or "stage". Also, in an explicit sense, turiya begins to designate liberation (moksha) itself. But if this is so, then we have a problem. To use Wilber's terminology, the other three states function as "structures" of consciousness. And yet moksha cannot be a "structure"; it can only be a "stage". Thus, if turiya is moksha, there is a qualitative difference between the first three padas and the fourth "pada". To make matters more complicated, something else enters the picture. Various traditions begin to speak of certain states of consciousness as "transcendent", that is, as states that go beyond conditioned reality, beyond the "world" of samsaric existence epitomized by the first three states. [...]

The Four-Fold Scheme of the Grammarians and Tantrikas: While the tantric traditions such as those of the Naths and Kashmiri Shaivas, accept the three (or four)-fold scheme of gross, subtle and causal states which is derivative of the Upanishads, there is another scheme derivative of the grammarians that is also operative in tantric works. This scheme is the three, or four, -fold division of the nature of mantra. The grammarians had posited that the "word" (vak), in its most inclusive sense, has four dimensions: para vak, the supreme, which is soundless; pashyanti vak, at which stage the word begins to manifest at an intuitive level; madhyama vak, or the middling stage, at which the word manifests at the mental level as thought; and vaikhari vak, which is physical speech. The tantric tradition assimilates this theory of mantra of the grammarians and integrates it with the theory of the three selves of Vedanta. In fact, the tantric traditions incorporate under this four-fold scheme every conceivable facet of doctrine and ritual of their system in a vast edifice of correspondences. The synthesis of the Vedantic and grammarian schemes within the tantric manifold figures most prominently in the works of Abhibnavagupta, the great Kashmiri Shaiva yogin, polymath and philosopher. This four-fold structure occurs elsewhere in tantric literature and can be found, for instance, in chapter three of Jnaneshvar's Amrta-anubhava, The Experience of Immortal Bliss, a work clearly written under the influence of the Naths.

In the tantric version of the theory of mantra, these four stages of the manifestation of the word are associated with the cakras in an interesting way that may seem counterintuitive. The "supreme" vak is associated with the root cakra, muladhara. The "causal" stage is associated with the navel cakra, manipura. The "subtle" stage is associated with heart cakra, anahata, and the "physical" stage is associated with the throat cakra.

In the tantric formulation the term "madhyama" is clearly associated with the mind, either manas or buddhi. This is the domain of the subtle. What, though, does "pashyanti" refer to? Here is my take: The verbal root "pash" means "to see". This particular ocular verb is sometimes associated with the "spiritual" seeing of the ancient rishis. The term "rishi" means, literally, "seer". It was thought that the ancient rishis "saw" the Veda (which means "knowledge") and then composed their hymns and mantras accordingly. This "seeing" is contrasted in the later tradition, which emphasizes the more derivative "hearing" (sravana). The ancient rishis, however, did not hear the Veda, they "saw" it; that is, they intuited its meaning directly. By "intuition" here we do not mean some fuzzy faculty of "feeling", but rather unmediated cognition, such as the apprehension at this moment that we awake. This, I think, is what is meant by the term "pashyanti": it refers to the intuitive mode of knowing in which subject and object, though distinguished, are in direct relation with each other. In Plotinian terms, it corresponds to immediate relation between noemata (Plato's "forms") and noesis (Plato's episteme) within the sphere of nous.

Feb 26, 2009 40.) Spatio-Temporality in Hindu Studies
from Indological Provocations by arvind sharma

The Upaniṣads are a particularly delicate case; the problem, stated in simplified form, has been whether the Upaniṣads were pre- or post-Buddhist. Their subject-matter and method of presentation have much in common with Buddhistic writings; the Pāli style seems, indeed, to be a diluted imitation of the Upaniṣadic style. The secular approach of the Upaniṣads is characteristic also of Buddhism and Jainism, those religions of princes. If we work on the presupposition that in India progress is from the simple to the complex, from brevity to elaboration, the Upaniṣads must be regarded as earlier. This is my own view.[4] Louis Renou, Religion of Ancient India (London: Athlone Press, 1953) p. 7.

The nexus between language and thought

Dabar: Some Psychodynamics of Language from Fido the Yak by Fido the Yak

Walter J. Ong's landmark Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word affords us an opportunity to critically examine the nexus between language and thought, even though we should be wary of too quickly adopting his distinction between oral and literate (chirographic, typographic and electronic) cultures with all of its implications. The fact that most language acquisition, beginning in the first months of human life, takes place before the acquisition of literacy gives us one reason for believing that the features of orality, or what Ong terms "massive oral residue" (passim), are in fact evident in every actual, lived language. We could, though I won't bother at this precise juncture, rigorously explore other reasons for believing that by and large language remains intertwined with speech even among the most sophisticated of literate communities. Instead I would simply ask you to reflect on your own experiences with language, even as you're reading this.

  • What is your body doing while you read this?
  • What feelings are in your throat, or in your hands as you formulate a thought that could be expressed in some form of language?
  • What peoples your imagination?

Mnesic Replay from Fido the Yak by Fido the Yak
Edgard Richard Sienaert, "Marcel Jousse: The Oral Style and the Anthropology of Gesture", Oral Tradition, 5/1 (1990): 91-106) [...]

  • How do Jousse's anthropological universals show themselves?
  • What is the bilateralism of the question?
  • How do we inquire evenhandedly?
  • Why do we say things like "both sides of the question"?
  • What is the mnesic question?
  • What kind of experience could a question possibly relive?
  • Does the question intussuscept in the same manner as the proposition?
  • Is a question forever intussuscepting?
  • Does the memorization of the question in any way interfere with its being a question?

(title unknown) from enowning
The Imaginative Universal explains about jargon and Martin.

Heidegger was somewhat obsessed with language and believed that language tends, over time, to hide and obfuscate meaning, when it should rather shed light on things. Along this vein, Being and Time begins with the claim that we today no longer understand the meaning of Being, and that this forgetting is so thorough that we are not even any longer aware of this absence of understanding, so that even the question "What Is Being?", which should be the most important question for us, is for the most part ignored and overlooked. To even begin understanding Being, then, we must first try to understand the meaning of the question of Being. We must first come to the realization that there is even a problem there in the first place which needs to be resolved.

Heidegger's chosen solution to this problem involves the claim that while language conceals meaning, it also, in its origins, is able to reveal it if we are able to come to understand language correctly. He gives an example with the term aletheia, which in Greek means truth. By getting to the origins of language and the experience of language, we can reveal aletheia. Aletheia, etymologically, means not-forgetting (thus the river Lethe is, in Greek mythology, the river of forgetting that the dead must cross before resting in Hades), and so the truth is implicitly an unconcealment that recovers the meanings implicit in language.

Feb 26, 2009 How Strong is a Chimpanzee? from Shared Symbolic Storage by Michael

John Hawks has a very interesting article in Slate in which he looks at the experiments that have been done to find out how strong chimpanzees really are. As it turns out, claims of chimpanzees being 5 to 9 times stronger are exaggerated, but they are still about twice as strong as humans. The short article makes for really enjoyable reading, Go check it out. I was surprised to read that that a chimp on all fours can easily outrun a human sprinter...

February 25, 2009

Heirs of correlationism have shifted towards a theological discourse: Nancy, Derrida, Marion, even Henry

Why Realism? from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects
I am hesitant to write this post because I believe that metaphysical and epistemological issues should be grounded in metaphysical and epistemological reasons, rather than normative reasons. Indeed, this was one of my main critiques of Deleuzian scholarship in Difference and Givenness: That it was too often conflating normative considerations based on a particular politics with grounds for endorsing Deleuze’s ontology. [...]

Take, for example, the contemporary debate over evolution. The religious skeptic might concede the correlationist argument, claiming that at the level of phenomena or how things appear for-us, evolution is the only plausible conclusion. Nonetheless– and here I’m indebted to Meillassoux’s analysis in After Finitude –the religious skeptic can still point out that this knowledge is restricted to appearances, and that the level of things-in-themselves the world could be organized in a completely different way, along creationist lines. “Since we cannot know things-in-themselves,” the religious skeptic reasons, “there is no reason to conclude that things are as they appear.” Consequently, the correlationist move still leaves open wiggle room for faith trumping what our experimental investigation of nature tells us. If the religious skeptic is committed to revelation as an article of faith (not knowledge), then he will feel warranted in rejecting the findings of these sciences (not that we would ever convince the religious skeptic anyway, but perhaps those in the audience viewing the debate). We find exactly this line of argument in vulgar form among those who argue (with frightening frequency in the states) that either a) Satan put fossils in the earth to mislead us, or b) that God created the world in such a way so as to appear to work along evolutionary terms so as to test our faith (apparently God is an ego-maniac that needs our faith like a vampire needs our blood, according to those who believe such things). But we also find very sophisticated forms of this argument. It is not a surprise, for example, that the heirs of correlationism have, in many instances, shifted towards a theological discourse: Nancy, Derrida, Marion, even Henry in his own way.

I thus think that lurking in the background of the realist/anti-realist debate is this central issue. The realist move– if possible today –attempts to bite the bullet and argue that occasionally we discover a bit of the real and that this real is not just phenomena for-us, but is how things are in-themselves. That is, these things are as they are regardless of whether we know them or experience them, and regardless of whether or not anyone exists. In making this claim it refuses the conflation of the epistemological (the for-us) with the ontological (the in-itself), arguing that claims about beings (the ontic) cannot be reduced to claims about what things are for-us. In part, I think this is what was at stake in the recent arid debate about the status of mathematical entities and whether or not there are mathematical entities that cannot be constructed in intuition. If it is so important to defend the existence of entities that cannot be constructed in intuition– which is entirely different from the claim that they cannot be known –then this is because what is being defended is the position that these entities aren’t simply what they are for-us, but exist as they are in their own right regardless of whether or not anyone exists to know them.

However, it is important to note that this realism would not be a naive realism. It is not being asserted that things exist in-themselves as we perceive them or that we posses an immediate relation to mind-independent objects as they are in-themselves. Following a line of argument advanced by Nick over at Accursed Share, it could turn out that things such as trees, tables, rocks, etc., do not exist as real objects, but instead exist in a completely different way at the level of real and mind-independent being. That’s an issue for ontology to work out. These real objects, rather, are only arrived at through a laborious and careful process in the development of knowledge where many theories are tried out, many motives for pursuing that knowledge are operative, and many of these theories and concepts turn out over time to be mistaken (as demonstrated experimentally, where the real gets to add its two cents with respect to our constructions or models).

It is also worth noting that this realism does not foreclose the possibility of theology or God as in the case of the correlationist move. It could turn out that God exists or is real. However, if things such as evolution describe the real, if things such as contemporary cosmology, geology, subatomic physics, and psychology, turn out to be true, it would also be the case that this God that exists is very different than the anthropomorphic God we find in the revelation of sacred texts throughout the world religions and that we should side with what our investigations into nature show us to be true, rather than what the revelation of some sacred text shows us to be true. From the correlationist standpoint this assertion cannot but be nonsense, as revelation is a matter of faith, whereas science is a matter of how things appear for-us. Thus, as Galileo put it in a less than heroic moment, his claims about planetary motion were not real but were useful fictions that aided in calculation.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I am hesitant to write all of this. If I am hesitant to write all of this, then this is because the desire to refute the religious skeptic is not a legitimate reason for endorsing a particular ontology, nor a reason for dismissing a particular epistemology. If we are intellectually honest, the reasons for endorsing or dismissing a particular ontology or epistemology must themselves be ontological or epistemological in character. Wishing, desiring, does not make something so, and this is the problem we find among ontological and epistemological arguments that are normatively driven such as in the case of those Deleuzians who seem to think they can dismiss Kant because he is a “state-thinker”. Poppycock! If Kant is to be dismissed, then this can only be on the grounds of 1) there being significant flaws in his position, and 2) through offering an alternative. However, while wishing does not make something so, this does not undermine the fact that these supposedly arid and remote issues have consequences that reverberate far beyond what they’re immediately about. I strongly suspect that both Alexei and I agree on the truth of the maths or the sciences, regardless of the fact that he’s an antirealist or correlationist and I’m a realist. However, the realist and anti-realist positions nonetheless have consequences that go beyond these rarified matters.

Private property is the sole guarantor of Liberty

Tuesday, 24 February 2009 Downgraded... As Predicted from ANTIDOTE by Sauvik Chakraverti

I read Kaushik Das' column in today's Mint with great interest...Kaushik is an adherent of the Austrian School of Economics, probably the only one with such a theoretical understanding in the Indian market. He is an economist with Kotak Mahindra Bank. [...]

In case you want to compare, read Pulin B Nayak's column in the ToI of today, supporting Keynesian bullcrap. Professor Nayak teaches at the Delhi School of Economics, and is a "government servant." So you know where not to go for higher education. Congrats Kaushik. Well done. Posted by Sauvik on Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Saturday, 21 February 2009 Thoughts On "Market Day"

We are fortunate that today we also have access to a speech by Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, at the European parliament. As a representative of a nation that suffered greatly under communist rule, Havel emphasizes the concerns his countrymen have over a European Union that is getting more centralized as well as protectionist every day. Havel says that the EU should have just two functions: one, removing barriers to trade; and two, public goods that cannot be provided for by member nations acting alone or jointly. He deplores the fact that the EU is headed in the opposite direction. He says:

“… the present economic system of the EU is a system of a suppressed market, a system of a permanently strengthening centrally controlled economy.”

He also deplores the protectionism that is rife in the EU. He finds it hilarious that the EU has imposed a 66% import duty on candles from China. It is as if Bastiat’s Candlemakers’ Petition has become reality.Do read the full speech here. This is the kind of politics we need in India. We too should put communism and socialism firmly behind us. Posted by Sauvik on Saturday, February 21, 2009 0 comments

Tuesday, 24 February 2009 The Purpose Of Law

A Rule of Law Society is based on three pillars: Property, Contracts and Torts. Each of these pillars of The Law are meant for the protection and safety of the citizen. With his Property protected by Law, the citizen is secure, his possessions are securely his; and not only that, when he wills his property to his descendants, these descendants are secure and protected too. No bully can interfere and hijack property. As John Locke wrote in 1690: "Where there is no Property, there is no Justice." Posted by Sauvik on Tuesday, February 24, 2009 5 comments

Monday, 23 February 2009 Ban The Police

The Police runs the black markets. And there is no Justice. And there is no Liberty. Recommended reading: Bruce Benson’s “The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without The State.” Ban The Police! Posted by Sauvik on Monday, February 23, 2009 1 comments

Wednesday, 25 February 2009 On Property, Liberty And The Law

We have just discussed the idea that the purpose of Law is to protect. It therefore follows that Legislation is not Law. Legislation is an interference. It takes away Freedom. It empowers the minions of The State. It is an instrument of social control – and is therefore the prime instrument of Socialism, which seeks to perform “social engineering.” All the schemes of social engineers are effected through Legislation.If you want to study this idea further, I suggest Bruno Leoni’s “Freedom and The Law.”

This book influenced Friedrich Hayek, whose “Law, Legislation and Liberty” broke new ground, as compared to his earlier work, “The Constitution of Liberty,” a book that Margaret Thatcher swore by. The future of freedom, which we aspire to, can only be achieved if we restrict Legislation to where it justly belongs: and that is, the regulation of the arms of the government. Legislation should cover the tax bureaus, the police, the civilian administration. This is the “public law.”

The citizenry are therefore free from Legislation. They inhabit the “private law” world of Property, Contracts and Torts. These fall within “civil law” and require no legislation. Of these, it is Private Property that is the sole guarantor of Liberty. When Legislation cannot interfere with Private Property, when Property is inviolable, we are all Totally Free. Posted by Sauvik on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 0 comments

I would be happy to be offered an adequate secular account of human rights

Nicholas Wolterstorff: February 23rd, 2009 at 2:26 pm
I don’t really have anything more to say about the role of justice in the New Testament than I said in the book. And David Johnston doesn’t challenge my argument that ancient eudaimonism did not have the conceptual resources necessary for developing an account of rights. Let me content myself with addressing the charge that I was dismissive of Rawls (”brushes aside”), and that I “misread” him.

My point about Rawls was two-fold. In his theory, Rawls assumes the existence of natural rights; I give textual evidence for that. Rawls does not, however, develop an account of natural rights; his interest was elsewhere. But my project was to give an account of natural rights. Hence there’s not much in Rawls for me to engage in carrying out my project. I don’t see why not engaging him for this reason constitutes brushing him aside.

I am open to being shown that, in spite of the evidence I cite, Rawls does not assume the existence of natural rights. If he does not, then it is even more clear that he is not, for me on this issue, a dialogue partner. Perhaps I should add that I have engaged Rawls extensively on other matters.

Nicholas Wolterstorff: February 23rd, 2009 at 4:47 pm
After expressing warm appreciation for earlier work of mine, Jonathon Kahn expresses dismay over the conclusions I come to in Chapter 15 of Justice: Rights and Wrongs, and even more dismay over my speculations in the Epilogue.

In Chapter 15 I conclude that there is, at present, no adequate secular grounding for human rights, and that it is unlikely there ever will be. I do not contest that there is adequate secular grounding for the rights of those human beings who have the capacity for rational agency, and for infants who will have the capacity; it is for the rights of those who do not and will not have the capacity that I see no adequate secular grounding. I did not expect to arrive at this conclusion, and I did not arrive at it happily; I would be pleased if an adequate secular grounding were forthcoming. But as of now, I don’t see any—unless one holds that merely possessing human nature, no matter how impaired that nature may be, is an adequate grounding.

Kahn asks, does it matter? Well, one can certainly struggle for human rights without being able to offer a grounding for those rights; that is the situation of almost everyone who does struggle for human rights. And one can hold that every human being, no matter how impaired, has a worth sufficient for grounding human rights even though one finds oneself at a loss to explain what gives them that worth. Nothing inconsistent in that. My worries are about the long haul.

  • What if the secularists among us cannot give an account of what gives even severely impaired human beings an inviolable worth?
  • What if only theists can give such an account?
  • And what if our society as a whole becomes more secular?
  • Will anything change in how we treat the severely impaired and in how we think they ought to be treated?

I said I feared that our attitudes would eventually change. I did not mean to sound “apocalyptic” about this. I don’t view “secular readings of human rights” as “toxic,” nor do I view secular citizens as “not trustworthy.” And it was a mistake on my part to talk of “sliding back into our tribalisms.” That’s not where I see the danger; a Kantian account of rights can be used to combat tribalism. It’s the severely impaired that are of concern to me.

So let’s have the discussion. I would be happy to be offered an adequate secular account of human rights. And I would be happy to be persuaded that, even without such an account, my worries about what might happen over the long haul to the severely impaired are misplaced.

February 22, 2009

Kroker’s and Thacker’s willingness to reconsider life and technology in ontological terms

On Cultivating the Gene for Transcending Your Genes from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
As mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm in the midst of reading a relatively new and state-of-the-art book on human origins entitled Before the Dawn.

Fitting science into a religious metaphysic should pose no difficulty whatsoever, or it's not much of a religion, is it? If science can't fit comfortably into a modest mansion or even double-wide trailer home of the Creator, what kind of God is that? Two of my favorite pneumanauts were at bloggerheads on this issue. Frithjof Schuon had no use for evolution and rejected it outright. But Sri Aurobindo had no problem at all with it, perhaps even going too far in the opposite direction (as was true of Hegel). In his case, he had a very different personal history than Schuon, which no doubt accounts for their divergent outlooks. In the case of Schuon, he was a deeply alienated European who could not find spiritual sustenance in the decadent environment of 1920's Europe, and therefore looked to the East (including Eastern Christianity, Vedanta and Sufism).

In the case of Aurobindo, he was from exactly the sort of traditional culture that Schuon idealized (India), but received a marvelous education in the West, at Cambridge. This put Aurobindo in the rather unique position (at that time, anyway) of seeing how the decadence of India actually obscured the perennial message at the heart of the Vedanta. He knew that India needed to move forward, not backward, in order to actualize its spiritual destiny and manifest its inner potential. You might say that he saw how India needed to become more Westernized -- i.e., more focused on the material plane -- while the West needed to become more "interior" to balance its relentless exteriorizing dynamic. This is exactly how I see it. I believe our conquest of the the external frontier must be followed by an exploration and colonization of the interior horizon. It is truly the "final frontier": vertical globalization.

And as a matter of fact, this is exactly what has been going on in the West -- albeit in fits and starts and with a lot of wrong turns -- since the time of the closing of the American frontier in the late 19th century. Just at that point, there was an "interior turn" throughout the West. We see this in art, literature, music, psychoanalysis, and the sudden interest in mysticism, theosophy and the occult (recall that Toots Mondello founded the Bensonhurst Raccoons around this time). Afterwards, the evolution of this inward turn was disrupted by cataclysmic world-historical events, including World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and Toots' incarceration. Thus, it is no coincidence that we began to see this interiorizing impulse reappear as if from nowhere in the late '50s and '60s, but people such as Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley were just a continuation of what had really gotten underway with the American transcendentalists such as Emerson. Obviously, Emerson can still be read with great profit today, as many of his observations were quite prophetic and remain entirely fresh and contemporary, to say the least. Indeed, viewed from a cosmic-historical standpoint, Emerson is hardly "in the past." He is just yesterday. Or perhaps just up ahead.

The whole new age movement, which emerged out of 1960s style pagan spirituality, represents a false and intrinsically wrong turn in our evolution. It takes certain truths and distorts them, dabbling in things that are not necessarily harmful "from above" but "from below." In other words, most of the new age blathering that goes by the name of "integralism" is nothing more than a co-opting of half-understood spiritual ideas for the purposes of narcissistic inflation (i.e., the lower seizing the higher instead of being transformed by it). These various approaches are spiritually vacuous to the Raccoon because they are generally detached from any timeless revelation and any true source of grace, without which one can only turn around in circles and exalt the self in compensation. "Followers" are required in order to create a space in which infantile omnipotence is projected onto the master, which then creates a belowback of pseudo-grace. This is the trick of the new age careerists. A normal person would be nauseated by such adulation.

Re: Biophilosophy for the 21st Century by Eugene Thacker (C Theory) Tony Clifton Sat 21 Feb 2009 10:19 AM PST Science, Culture and Integral Yoga

I am posting a very interesting conversation between Arthur Kroker and Eugene Thacker most of which concerns this essay on biophilosophy. With biophilosophy Thacker reintroduces the idea of ontology into the study of life, and this move contrasts it to the "philosophy of biology" that concerns itself with epistemology.

The difference between regarding biology as ontology rather than epistemology is subtle but is a decisive turn that I believe is also relevant for introducing the more esoteric ideas (especially regards cellular life) found in SA/M into scholarly consideration. (the interview can be linked to here) And can be found on the C Theory web site.

It is heartening to see both Kroker’s and Thacker’s -two leading theorist of technology and culture- willingness to reconsider life and technology in ontological terms while remaining totally cognizant of the legitimate metaphysical critique that has been fashioned over the course of the past century. In Thacker’s instance he talks about reintroducing ontology into the study of life in a way that resist the metaphysical critique. (also relevant to contemporary studies of Sri Aurobindo, and unfortunately one reason the more reactionary elements of the Ashram are burning PH in effigy) Thacker concludes the conversation by suggesting that scholars rather than avoid the mystical need rather to finally confront it.

In much the same way that I believe the proper way to introduce Sri Aurobindo into contemporary scholarly discourse is not uncritically but by remaining aware of the metaphysical critique, (a.k.a those things that are not empirically obvious) and cognizant of what can and can not be mutually shared in a conversation, yet not avoiding what is essential in his work, Thacker reintroduces Henri Bergson’s concept of vitalism (Elan vital) into the discussion and relates it his ontology of life by referring to a new area of scholarship “new vitalism” . Here is a partial abstract I found, it begins: "This introduction addresses how and why vitalism - the idea originating in the 18th and 19th centuries, that life cannot be explained by the principles of mechanism matters now." [...]

The conversation also considers Marx’s idea of species being and Foucault's bio-politics both of which relate to an ontological understanding of life, as well as, new modes of genetic and cellular production, dead labor, zombie movies, the origins of science fiction (in Homer, Mary Shelly, or HG Wells?) bio-art.

Responses to “Brassier’s Meets an Ethnographer jerry the anthropologist Says: February 21, 2009 at 9:57 pm

First, I’m a good deal less convinced that string theory is a well formed scientific theory than apparently you are. Einstein’s work has been experiementally vindicated, so too has much of quantum mechanics. Huxley was able to make powerful arguments in favor of Darwin’s theories within 4 years (more or less) of the publication of On the Origin of Species, see his Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature published in 1863, on the basis of comparative anatomy alone; nor should we forget the fabulous intuitions (reimaginings) of Alfred Russel-Wallace. But as I understand matters, its been twenty years more or less for string theory and nada. So I do not have to accept the if-then nature of the argument; I really should leave aside the ethnographic fact that not all forms of human reason and human language allow if-then statements as grammatically well formed or linguistically fluent, but I can’t resist. So maybe you are right and I’ve over read an argument.

Nonetheless on this basis I do not have to accept the premises of what follows from Bhaskar’s invocation of string theory (perhaps better the string hypothesis). Nor do I am right about mathematics, do I have to accept the reading of moving beyond the image of the world. I take mathematical objects to be extant in thought and not in the proportions of (especially) living things. Indeed mathematical objects seem to me an extremely good example of myth, understood in anthropological sense and not a colloquial one; I said as much in an earlier comment.

I simply do not agree with you about Copernicus or Darwin. We ask questions for reasons at particular times, but we ask them given oddities in what we perceive; this is not ethnographically insignificant as can be understood if we think about why mayans did not use wheels on carts or the classical Mediterrean folks did not use steam engines to power looms. This is why I think your dismissal of the question of the calculation of Easter is a bit premature. It is also why I think we need to come back to the movement of the planets. These motions has been known of for a very long time and by a variety of sciences not all of which are western. The point however for Copernicus is not just that the planets move forward against the apparent background of stars, they also move backwards, and in the case of Venus move from evening to morning and back to evening with periods of being unobservable between. If we do not attend to these sorts of movements, so be it, why should we. Hence the sense many have of the moving of the sun, moon and the so-called fixed stars, which if I understand you you equate with some sort of common sense (forgive me, but as you know any idea of common sense just gets anthropologists’ juices going–what is common about this or that sense?). But the backwards movements are still there in the heavens and in the image of the world (I suppose this is an example of what you mean by correlationism??). These movements are precisely the sort of detail which leads to a reimagining of the image of the world in the sense I’ve spoken of, and not the other way round as some sort of suspension. Indeed, if I’m right about mathematetics (and yes in English of our era if-then statements are grammatically well formed) then then mathematics is not such a suspension but rather a way or means of reimagining the world.

What disturbs me about the cultural constructionists in anthropology (I won’t speak of other disciplines) is that they often seem to forget that there is a world out there being thought by someone, individually and collectively. What I find disturbing in the sort of materialism Bhaksar puts forth in those few pages is what I take to be a forgetting of the conditions of and for thought or maybe even a contempt for those who seek to explore these matters, of certain types of psychology and anthropology; he says of those forms of knowing that they are repugnant, and in that sense misunderstands how Darwin’s thought has entered into neurology, psychology and anthropology in ways that makes these three disciplines potentially unitary. What I’m also saying here is that he is ethnographically mistaken or put another way that his choice between Darwin and Husserl (or at least phenomenology as it has come to influence certain strands of psychology and anthropology) is a false choice. Its because I see this as a false choice (my notes refer to the top of his page 18 but without going back and rereading I can’t reconstruct this further) that I see Bhaskar as dreaming of a transparent language, shall we say mathematics??, without seeing this, apparently, as a reimagining of the image of the world.

I’ll grant that we can describe that we can describe human beings as “a carbon based information processing sytem” but that description also applies to marmosets, earthworms, my cats and the trees outside in that all of these living entities respond to events around them; this is what I mean, at least in part, when I speak about form the way that I do. The difference that makes a difference would be, I think, that we tell stories about the world as a part of thinking the world whereas my cats tell less complicated stories, if you will; I take mathematics to be a profound example of such a story, and in Husserl’s version as articulated in the quote, Nature is also a profound example.

Analogies Elucidating Correlationism from Larval Subjects . by larvalsubjects

Suppose you were to look through the bottom of a stemless wine glass while looking at the world. Because of the properties of the glass, when you look through it everything takes on a radial pattern of bending or distortion. Now, suppose we take this experiment one step further and hypothesize that we only see the world through such a wine glass and never see it in any other way. In this analogy, what appears through the bottom of the glass is the “given”, while the glass itself is “givenness” or the mechanism by which the given is given or bestowed.

At this point questions of ontology and epistemology merge. The correlationist or transcendental philosopher, recognizing that it is not the world itself that displays this radial pattern but our own cognition or perception of the world that contains contributes this radial curving pattern. The correlationist or transcendental philosopher will then make three claims:

  • First, the correlationist will argue that while we are limited by this formal structure of perception, we can nonetheless analyze this structure of our perception, e.g., we can precisely discuss the structure of the radial curvature, etc.
  • Second, the correlationist will claim that any object we perceive will be structured in and through this radial curvature. For example, when I look through the bottom of my glass the door to my living room closet is bowed along the outside, with a bit of a blind circular spot in the middle. The mode or mechanisms of givenness systematically structures what appears as given.
  • Finally, third (and most importantly), the correlationist will claim that we can know nothing of objects as they are independent of these mechanisms of givenness because we have no access to objects beyond this field of presentation.

February 21, 2009

Cardinal sin of structuralism lies in its tendency to confuse the map with the territory

Badiou, Extension, and Networks from Larval Subjects . by larvalsubjects

Badiou’s thesis is not that entities cannot enter into relations, only that they are not defined by their relations. Thus, while there is a gap between the ontological (being qua being or the discourse of multiplicity qua multiplicity) and the ontic (ordered or related elements in a world), Badiou’s ontology nonetheless strongly suggests that entities are prior to their relations in the domain of the ontic as well. Here relations are external to their terms, such that entities are not defined by their relations, but rather enter into their relations.
If entities are independent or prior to their relations, it follows that we should abandon the concept of structure and instead shift to a network or assemblage based model of relations among entities. The problem with the concept of structure is that it treats relations as internal relations, such that the elements belonging to the structure have no existence independent of its relations. In his marvelous popularization of network science, the Columbia sociologist Duncan Watts admirable puts his finger on this problem, writing that,

The crux of the matter is that in the past, networks have been viewed as objects of pure structure whose properties are fixed in time. Neither of these assumptions could be further from the truth. First, real networks represent populations of individual components that are actually doing something– generating power, sending data, or even making decisions. Although the structure of the relationships between a network’s components is interesting, it is important principally because it affects either their individual behavior or the behavior of the system as a whole. Second, networks are dynamic objects not just because things happen in networked systems, but because the networks themselves are evolving and changing in time, driven by activities or decisions of those very components. In the connected age, therefore, what happens and how it happens depend on the network. And the network in turn depends on what has happened previously. It is this view of a network as an integral part of a continuously evolving and self-constituting system– that is truly new about the science of networks. (Six Degrees, 28 - 29)

larvalsubjects Says: February 21, 2009 at 12:57 am Alexei,
I would also add that characterizing Badiou’s fondness for set theory in terms of the epistemic issue of presuppositionlessness misses the whole point (and real force) of his ontological move. What interests Badiou about ZF set theory is not that it is presuppositionless, but that it sidesteps these sorts of questions about epistemology and foundations altogether. The axioms of ZF set theory are not self-evident truths, but are decisions from which set theory begins. As far as I can tell, this is an entirely new beginning point in philosophy. No other philosopher I can think of has thought to begin from a decision rather than some sort of question of knowledge. If Badiou is able to begin from the axioms of set theory without having to engage in something like Kant’s critical analysis or a Heideggerian hermeneutic analysis of everydayness, then this is because the decisional starting point subtracts itself from any and all epistemic questions of evidences, asking only what follows from the constraints of these decisions, not what authorizes these decisions/axioms in the first place. This simplifies a complex matter a bit too much, but hopefully draws attention to just what is important about Badiou’s move in the history of philosophy.

larvalsubjects Says: February 21, 2009 at 3:26 am Alexei,
Thanks for the clarification. Glad we’re on the same page vis a vis Badiou. I’m not sure I understand your question about the epistemic versus the epistemological. My use of one term rather than the other is, I think, simply a matter of grammar, not a distinction between two different things. What I do object to, however, is what I call, following Bhaskar, the reduction of ontological questions to epistemic questions. This would be summed up in the Kantian aphorism that the conditions for the possibility of experience are identical to the conditions for the possibility of the objects of experience. That is, if Kant is to be followed, the latter claim is making an ontological claim about what any object must be, suturing it to conditions for our knowledge of that object. I would argue that we can, in fact, (in some cases) have a knowledge of what a world would be independent of our knowledge of it or our existence. Indeed, many of the objects dealt with in the sciences are beyond the scope of anything humans can experience or intuit. The problem with correlationism, especially in its phenomenological variant, is that it sutures all talk of objects to what can be experienced by humans. Thus, when we talk of cosmic time and space scales, or quantum time scales, we’re necessarily led to the conclusion that these things are pure fictions as they’re thoroughly unintuitable for humans.

larvalsubjects Says: February 21, 2009 at 4:12 am Thanks, Nathan. I like your way of putting it:
As I read Badiou, “entities” are precisely what are decomposed at the level of ontology. As you rightly point out, ontology is defined as “what can be said of being qua being independent of any particular being.” “Entities” thus emerge only through the ontic ordering of worlds, and therefore cannot properly be said to be “prior to their relations in the domain of the ontic.” The ontological situation of inconsistent multiplicity is not composed of “entities.” So, in that case, entities are precisely defined by and constituted through relations, though being qua being is non-relational.

I share your reading. This is why questions of individuation or the count-as-one are at the heart of the whole ontological. What, precisely, are these mechanisms and where do they come from? I’m sympathetic to Badiou’s infinite decomposition but have reservations as well. I think it’s precisely these questions that tend to be ignored in the reception of Badiou. On the other hand, this is Badiou’s “Judo” move. Anyone who has ever practiced Judo knows that you use the force and momentum of your opponent against them. This is the beauty of Badiou’s move against the postmodern skeptics. Rather than claiming that difference or infinite decomposition is the ruin of metaphysics, he asserts that this is metaphysics. That is, against the sophists he claims that their very gesture reveals the essence of being, rather than spelling the ruin of being. That’s something worth preserving.

The WholePoint of HisStory from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
Who can hope to obtain proper concepts of the present, without knowing the future? --Johann Georg Hamann

If we consider the historical form of Jesus, we see that he cannot be understood in isolation, unlike, say, Buddha or Shankara, who divulge a message of purely vertical metaphysics which stands outside time. In fact, the same could be said of the Koran, and we can see how this leads to certain inevitable problems, i.e., either the devaluation of time (as in Buddhism), or else the attempt to cease it altogether, so that we might all live shabbily ever after in a 7th century caliphate worse than death. But Jesus appears within a dense network of earlier truths, of which he is said to be the "fulfillment." Ultimately, as we shall see, his form is very much temporal as opposed to spatial.

Rehabilitating religious rights talk from The Immanent Frame by John Schmalzbauer

In December, we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, it has served as a charter for the modern human rights movement. Many scholars are unaware of the religious underpinnings of the Declaration.

February 17, 2009

Hurford virtually ignores anything to do with human evolution

derekbickertonmore on Thu 16 Oct 2008 05:16 PM PDT Permanent Link Cosmos
James Hurford, “The Origins of Meaning”.
Oxford University Press, 2007 Reviewed by Derek Bickerton

James Hurford has been working on the evolution of language for the last two decades. His first paper on this topic appeared in the 1980s (Hurford 1989), antedating the work of Pinker, myself, and just about anyone else currently active in the field. He has written numerous stimulating and insightful, if often controversial, papers and has co-edited two collections of conference proceedings (Hurford et al. 1998, Knight et al. 2000). However, until now he has not attempted any full-length treatment of the subject, so the current volume has aroused considerable interest and high expectations. This volume is the first of two on language evolution; the second, on formal and structural aspects of language, will be published at a later date. [...]

As the foregoing suggests, Hurford brings to his task an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the literature in a half-dozen fields. This knowledge is displayed in a superbly-organized argument into which hundreds of disparate pieces of information are neatly slotted, giving rise to a smoothly-flowing and cohesive whole. Only rarely does his erudition lead him into superfluous detours: his occasional nitpicking to satisfy philosophers, or the discussion of “simultanagnosia” on pages 107-109. For the most part, the reader is swept along effortlessly, despite the inevitable density and complexity of much of the material. For a work aimed both at experts and educated laypersons, his tone is pitch-perfect; he never condescends to nor patronizes the reader, nor does he oversimplify complex material, yet he makes difficult ideas easy to digest and even, quite often, entertaining. He balances opposing arguments fairly, yet seldom equivocates or fails to indicate where his own sympathies lie. For once, book-jacket encomia—“this major intellectual endeavor,” “the major publication dealing with language evolution to date”—do not seem over-strained.

I sincerely wish it were possible to close my review on this note. I genuinely admire what Hurford has done here, and doubt whether anyone else in the field could have synthesized so much information in so palatable and user-friendly a manner. Yet I would be remiss in my duty if I stopped there. Precisely because the book is so good, it succeeds in concentrating and focusing as never before an approach to language evolution that is very widely shared--a view some aspects of which I myself have shared--but one that over the last few years I have come to regard as an obstacle rather than an aid in the search for the evolutionary origins of language. What follows should therefore be regarded not so much as criticism of Hurford and his book as criticism of the tradition that it represents. Indeed, I am in Hurford’s debt, since the clarity and thoroughness of his work has helped to clarify my own thinking on the vitally important issues the book raises.

Hurford mentions two or three times—unlike many writers in the field, he doesn’t hide things—that the fact that humans alone, but no other species, not even those closest to us, have acquired language poses a serious problem for explanations of how language evolved. He frankly admits he has no solution to this problem, but since nobody has ever even suggested one (and most people don’t seem to recognize the problem) he then drops the subject. At the same time, although he makes occasional disclaimers (“We will also see the still large gap that exists between us and other species,” p. 2), his statement (cited above) that the primates who pioneered language were “cognitively pretty much as you are”, plus his view that “animal concepts provide a foundation for the meaning of words” (19), suggest that he regards the cognitive capacities of other great apes as little inferior to those of humans. The only thing he doesn’t realize is the strange place that the conjunction of these two lines of thinking leads to. [...]

But what might look random from a progressive perspective is anything but random when seen from the viewpoint of evolutionary biology. Here there is no “approaching” of anything; species get the particular cognitive and communicative skills they need in order to exploit the particular niches that they have chosen or constructed, and once they have those skills, Nature, wholly uninterested in perfecting the type, simply stops selecting. Hurford gives a favorable mention to niche construction theory, and I kept hoping he was going to draw the conclusion I drew from it: that the key to the origin of language must be sought somewhere among the niches constructed by human ancestors between the date of the last common ancestor of humans and other apes and the present—niches very different from any occupied by other apes. But he did not.

He did not, for a very interesting reason. I spoke earlier of how well Hurford covers evidence from a variety of fields. But there is one startling omission—at least, one that would be startling, were it not found among so many other writers on language evolution. He virtually ignores anything to do with human evolution. [...]

Hurford is always a stimulating and thought-provoking writer, and never more so than here; proof of that stimulation can be found in this very review, where his book has forced me to sharpen and express my own ideas in ways I had not imagined before. I doubt if anyone will produce a more competent and thoroughgoing defense of what Irene Pepperburg (2005) called the “primate-centric” position. Those who would challenge that position, from whatever perspective, must be able as a minimum to answer all of Hurford’s arguments, or abandon their enterprise altogether.

February 13, 2009

At some point, this binding force or "bandhu" that permeates the cosmos comes to be called "brahman"

A Geneological Commentary on The Play of Consciousness
from Gaia Community: kelamuni's Blog From Magical to Analogical Thinking: The System of Corrospondences

Though Shankara's path of jnana yoga ultimately rejects the idea that the self has dimensions or a location, it does recognize the propaedeutic and metaphoric role such conceptions play within the Vedanta system of meditation-devotion (upasana). In other words, for those who require a form for meditation, such conceptions help provide a "place," an "object" upon which the mind may be focussed. The idea of relating various objects of meditation within a system of correspondences is also a central aspect of tantric theory and practice. Consider any chart of the cakras, in which each cakra has a color, a mantric vibration, a yantric design, a day of the week, an action-figure, etc. associated with it. In fact, this practice of constructing systems of correspondences goes back to the Upanishads and their reconstitution of the older Brahmanic ritual cult. Indeed, much of the more incomprehensible portions of the older Upanishads have to do with these systems of "correspondences." What they refer to are the older ritual identifications and equivalences that have been transposed into the domain of thought and imagination. Consider the opening passage from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad concerning the ancient horse sacrifice: [...]

These kind of ritual identifications occur throughout the older Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads. In many ways, the tantric tradition is the inheritor of this older form of ritualized Vedanta, even though the Tantras are considered heterodox. At the very least we can see the "as above, so below" or microcosm/macrocosm conception in both. In tantric theory, the human individual is considered to be an exact replica, in miniature, of the cosmos. Eliade, for example, phenomenologically relates the central channel or nadi of the human individual to the axis mundi of the cosmos (Atlas holding the heavens in his shoulders in Greek myth, the "navel of the ocean" in Homer, Mount Meru in Indian myth, etc.). This Hermetic maxim, "as above, so below", is also a dictum of the West Indian sants like Jnaneshvar, who expresses it thus: "pindi te brahmandi," which means, what happens in the individual body (pinda) occurs in the cosmos (Brahmanda, literally, the "egg of Brahma").

Accordingly, in many traditions, the process of yoga is considered to be the individual enactment of the process of cosmic dissolution (pralaya) that occurs at the end of every cosmic age. Both kundalini yoga and shabda yoga can be seen as instances of this type, and in a general sense can be called versions of "laya-yoga," the yoga of dissolution. Here, the idea is that grosser and "lower" structures are to be "dissolved" in "higher," more subtle structures of being in a process known as "laya-krama" (krama means gradual or incremental). Among the Naths, the instrument of this "dissolution" (laya) is the cosmic Shakti or Kundalini; among the north Indian Sants, it is the celestial sound current or Shabda. In the metaphysics underpinning the conception and rationale of such practices, each higher level of being is said to "transcend yet include" each of the preceding lower levels, a principle stated succinctly in Shankara's Upadeshashashri at 1.9.1, which reads, "It should be known that with the series beginning with earth and ending with the inner atman (pratyag-atman), each succeeding component is more subtle and more pervasive than the preceding one that has been abandoned." Ascending series of ontic structures are described in various places in the Upanishads --- the koshas of the Taittiriya Up being a paradigmatic example. The process of "dissolution" or laya-krama is explicitly described at Katha Upanishad 1.3.13: [...]

At some point, this binding force or "bandhu" that permeates the cosmos comes to be called "brahman." And he who has knowledge of this "brahman," and its unseen, inner workings is the brahmin. Given that he understands the nature of this force, the brahmin has power over it. Power also creates knowledge (in the sense of institutions ala Foucault), and so by the time of the Brahmana texts, the concept arises that the symbolic meaning of the ritual must be understood if the ritual is to be efficacious (a conception that also insures the necessity of those who understand its meaning, i.e., the brahmins). Eventually the idea of the binding force is replaced by the system of ritual and symbolic identifications, and brahman as the "binding force" becomes Brahman, the ens reale, the metaphysical principle constituting the cosmos itself. By the time of the Upanishads, the idea arises that ritual can be done away with entirely and performed in toto within the imagination of the performer.

The Upanishads say repeatedly, he who knows "thus", gains "thus." In other words, as long as the meaning of the rite is known, that is, the ritual identifications are known, the benefits of the rite accrue. Thus Prashna Upanishad 4.4 says "the mind (manas) is the sacrificer." In time, this noetic form of the rite comes to be seen as superior to the physical rite due to its release from its imperfect material basis. Gita 6.33, for example, says that the "jnana yajna", the sacrifice done within the sphere of knowledge is superior to the material rite. [...] Yogavasistha, which is a work of a general "advaitic" orientation was probably written under the influence of Kashmiri Shaivism.

Despite efforts of some states to destroy all religion, they still have religious societies

The Immanent Frame
Secularism, religion, and the public sphere
At The Immanent Frame, three new posts from Richard Madsen:
Discerning the religious spirit of secular states in Asia
“In his monumental book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor distinguishes three meanings of secularism, as it refers to the 'North Atlantic societies' of Western Europe and North America. Can this analytic framework be applied outside of the North Atlantic world, particularly to Asian societies? Taylor himself would not claim to have created a framework for a universal theory of comparative religion. But this framework, grounded in a particular cultural and historical experience, may nonetheless be useful for cross cultural comparisons.” View this full post.
Embedded religion in Asia
“The secularity of modern Asian states has by no means led to widespread social secularity, Taylor’s second secularity, a decline of religious belief and practice among ordinary people. The degree of religious practice varies from country to country, but almost everywhere temples, mosques, churches, and shrines are ubiquitous and full of people, especially during festival seasons. Even in China, where the government actively propagates an atheist ideology and has severely restricted open religious activities, it has been estimated that as much as ninety-five percent of the population engages from time to time in some form of religious practice. Moreover, throughout Asia there have been impressive revivals and reformations of Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian religious beliefs and practices—Asia is religiously dynamic.” View this full post.
Hybrid consciousness or purified religion
“Charles Taylor’s framework for understanding the advent of a 'secular age' in the North Atlantic world offers a useful first draft for understanding the place of religion in Asian modernity. As I have shown in my previous two posts, modern Asian countries have secular states, but, despite efforts of some states to destroy all religion, they still have religious societies. In this post, I will discuss how new cultural conditions of belief give religion a different valence than it had in pre-modern times. Taylor’s framework, however, is only a first draft.” View this
full post
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February 12, 2009

Religious springboards - mantras, pictures, relics - as a living impulse toward Spirit

The Greyscale Between Religion and Spirituality by Rick Lipschutz
posted by Debashish on Sat 10 Jan 2009 09:46 AM PST Permanent Link

He may be coming to the yoga from a different basis - after all most of us do not usually start the Integral Yoga from all bases at once, though that too is possible and would be preferable - i.e., there may be a devotion dichotomy here that has turned into an apparent absolute conflict, which, seen from a wider, though admittedly not particularly human perspective, could simply present complementary approaches. This complementary, more inclusive understanding, if approached from a psychic or spiritual view, could even potentiate mutual growth among us all. Just a suggestion.

The “vital” also plays its crucial part in yoga, and there can be no living realization without it. Spiritual philosophy (I’m referring, again, to those four “paths” or “principal elements” the Mother was speaking about) provides a needed underpinning, in the inner mind, so that the mind will not pose as its usual self inimical to spiritual advance, but be of some humble help, in being more open and quiet and peaceful and calm. And spirituality - once we start to have experiences, even realizations, we need to work to express them in life, not sit in them or get stuck in them - that, I believe, was part of the pretext for the founding of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram where spirituality is to be realized in life, embodied. If we regard Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as avatars, are they living Avatars, or are we stuck in a religious formula, an empty shell?

I think, if we look at ourselves - as I look at myself, anyway - I see that sometimes I am using religious springboards - mantras, pictures, relics even - as a living impulse toward Spirit - but sometimes, I am not. Sometimes I’m trapped in an empty shell, wrapped up in a formula. One moment, or one month, my inner consciousness may be spiritual; the next moment, or for two months I may be religious. And as the Mother said, in the passage I quoted, to be complete this yoga requires expressing the spiritual impulsion in living actions that, in the context of the passage, she called religious!

We can also see this (this necessity of expressing our spiritual aspiration in outward actions, sometimes even in seemingly religious forms of expression) woven into “The Yoga of Divine Works” in Sri Aurobindo’s essential The Synthesis of Yoga. And it might help, even in the attempt to become integral karmayogins, if we have some foundation in our outer and inner mind in a living spiritual philosophy; because, if we do, we maybe can give a decent explanation to someone else who asks a question.

Gently, I am suggesting that it might help if more of us actually read Sri Aurobindo in an ongoing fashion and find our spiritual philosophical understanding in some kind of greater spiral inclusiveness. His writing seems to become more clear as we do, and even the attempt to read him may help in promoting some mental quiet, mental clarity through which spiritual force can come.

And perhaps, just perhaps we don’t need to make a choice - that clean mental cut that our minds often fall upon the sword of! - between “worshiping” and “becoming.” I believe the Mother did make a statement about sadhaks worshiping because they were too lazy to become. When we look at this contexted in a yoga that embraces all of life, if we admire, devote ourselves, worship, then we can do it in such a way that we do not get stuck in our worship. We can worship in such a way that we strive to become, emulate, even identify actively with the Divine or at least its representatives. Or, our work-to-become may be a way of worship for some of us. Or, if we get stuck, and the soul in us is aflame and the guidance is there, then we get unstuck and start to move again. We come to surrender ourselves to the object of worship or devotion, not as worms, but as living, evolving beings who have a soul in us that is part and portion of the Divine - of the same essence as the Saccidananda and the very Transcendent itself, and aspiring also towards Braham-actualization - and we begin to identify with the Divine in form or representation and START TO TAKE IT ON.

We take it on by “grace” because we are not doing it ourselves, but only setting up conditions that may in time allow it to happen. This seems to be the only way we can bridge that gulf, between us and the pioneers of Integral Yoga - that distressingly infinite-seeming gap - that I mentioned. And there are many starts and steps, and turnabouts and bridges, and religion and spirituality seem to intertwine; and only the Divine Grace can really extract that fiber of true spirituality, from religion or religiosity. That divine grace in this yoga is the working of the Mother, the conscious bliss-force of the Shakti. Science, Culture and Integral Yoga Previous: Explanation of my Stand wrt The Lives of Sri Aurobindo Next: The Mother's war for the Truth against all conceptions of the truth