November 19, 2012

Sri Aurobindo is still a marginal figure in academia

Between Mental Manufacture and Pure Transcript The Viability of a Theory of Poetry in the Letters of Sri Aurobindo - Vinod Valiathakidi Balakrishnan Associate Professor, National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli, 620 015,  Tamilnadu, India Email: Published April 18, 2012
It is a matter of amusement that a person like Sri Aurobindo who has substantially contributed to the understanding, consolidation, propagation, and furthering of Indian thought should still be a marginal figure in academia. Sri Aurobindo’s contribution to the many aspects of Indian Culture makes him a cultural institution whose value must be cherished and merits critical revaluations from time to time. This study is a response to that perceived need…
So, there is an engagement, a dialogue, an interaction between the well-considered question and the appropriate response. There is also the possibility of keener application to problems because at the time of replying to each of his interlocutors, Sri Aurobindo was responding to a given problem where all the other issues would be kept in abeyance. Perhaps, even he was unaware of the multitude of issues identified and attended while the beautiful conversation on poetry, with multiple interlocutors, was unfolding. In this respect, the Letters may be seen to resemble Plato’s Republic or Sir Philip Sidney’s An Apology for Poetry.

HIndus and their enemies PIONEER SATURDAY, 17 NOVEMBER 2012
Koenraad Elst’s book suffers from occasional ignorance of recent developments. Readers need to separate the wheat from the chaff to benefit from his criticisms, writes Navaratna Rajaram
Where the author goes wrong is when he ventures into unfamiliar territory like science (genetics) where he fails to distinguish between transient opinion and fact. It is not easy to do full justice to a book that covers such a large territory. There are discussions of karma and rebirth, humour in Hinduism, Macaulay, historicity of the Vedas and the like in which he expresses opinions on these and other topics where the reader has to accept or reject them based on one’s own beliefs and prejudices. (This reviewer found most of them to be familiar and a few, like his interpretation of apauresheya, to be plain wrong. Philosophy, metaphysics in particular, is not the author’s strength.) All told, the patient reader will find the book provocative even if the author’s positions are not always sound. The reviewer is the author of several books on Indian history and his current interest is history and philosophy of science

I was born in a home of broad-minded Hindus. My father, though by caste a Brahmin, never wore a thread. His own father’s brother was a lifelong opponent of the caste system; a hostel he opened for Dalit students still functions in Bangalore city. My mother went from time to time to a temple, but was happy to eat with or make food for humans of any background or creed. Two of her brothers had married out of caste; a third had married a German.

Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism by Peter Heehs (from AntiMatters)
I am not, and never have been a religious person. My parents were Protestant Christians, though neither was religious. I was sent to Sunday school in order to satisfy my grandmother, but took no interest at all in what was taught there, and never entered a church or any other place of worship as a worshipper. If I ever stepped into a church (or synagogue or mosque or temple) it was to admire the architecture and artworks, and perhaps also to enjoy the atmosphere of peace that sometimes fills such places. But I found the beliefs and practices of every religion I encountered to be pointless and uninteresting. The search for truth was important to me; but it never crossed my mind that religion could be any help in this. Rather I turned to poetry, philosophy and psychological experimentation in my search for enlightenment. These interests led me to yoga and, because yoga usually is taught by people who come from the Hindu tradition, I was exposed to the literature and some of the practices of the Hindu religion. I found, and still find, the literature profound and significant. As for the practices, I found them colourful and charming, though certainly not the sort of thing I could incorporate into my life. 
Now you may well ask, why should I, a non-Hindu, choose to speak about Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism? … What he offered in his major works was a means to achieve an experiential truth that surpasses the doctrines and practices any religion of the past or present. He did not prohibit religious expression, but he expected those who needed it to rise above sectarianism and conventionality. For such things can only act against the full expression of his work. At the same time he offered those who were proud of their Hindu heritage an unusual opportunity. They could serve as links between an ancient religion and the new possibilities offered by his path of yoga. A Hinduism open to the transformative power of this yoga could become a force for transformation in the world. 

“Freedom” is among the most central concepts in our political vocabulary. I think it is deservedly so. But it’s also a concept with a notoriously large number of meanings. Libertarians identify freedom simply with the absence of state coercion; by contrast, the most widely used Sanskrit term with an equivalence to freedom is probably moka, liberation from the suffering of worldly existence. And the most common use of “freedom” today is something different again: the ability to make unrestricted choices, to decide for oneself what one will do.
Freedom in this sense of choice played a fairly limited role in premodern political thought, and I think this is because the ancients understood its limitations. Human beings often do not make the best decisions for themselves. At a large scale, we get addicted to alcohol and other drugs; we fall into paralyzing depression and even suicide; we get misled by demagogues into murderous hatreds. At a smaller level, we lash out in anger at minor annoyances; we procrastinate the things we know it would be best for us to do; we get bitter and vain about matters of social status and material possessions. Given all this, the ability to make choices can be bad for us, since the choices themselves are so often bad.
All this is the view, shared by XunziAugustine, and Freud, which I have referred to in the past as chastened intellectualism. (I have tempered my enthusiasm for chastened intellectualism on the grounds that the good elements to human nature should not be ignored, but the bad ones remain there as well.) It is well known that Xunzi also endorsed a political system which greatly restricted freedom (in the sense of choice). Looking at all the terrible things people do, how can you trust them to make decisions for themselves? …
The view I have just articulated has some affinities with political libertarianism, which is similarly suspicious of government attempts to make decisions in the name of people’s individual best interests. It is not the same, however. A critique of libertarianism could take its own post. Suffice it to say here that given the importance of money and property in creating possibilities for action, insofar as individual choice is a good, that good is not actually best realized by a social system that keeps many people in abject poverty.

Eamonn Butler: “Friedrich Hayek: the ideas and influence of the libertarian economist”
Holding to his unfashionable convictions for decades led Hayek into intellectual isolation. He was, albeit, politely tolerated rather than listened to by faculty in the universities he taught at. Mainstream economics passed him by during the Keynesian years.  Nobody, for example, mentioned him during my undergraduate years from 1965-69…
Hayek’s life and legacy testify to the lasting power of ideas over the fleeting influence of individual politicians who, because they misunderstand the dynamics of human societies, normally promote the wrong ideas. Radicals of Left and Right believe they can change society by capturing the legislature to correct what they regard as society’s systemic errors. Hayek noted, sardonically, that if designed changes tried to change the world, we cannot be sure that the outcome would please either its designers or those affected by their changes.
Hayek insisted that human institutions throughout history were the result of countless individual human actions, but not from anyone’s deliberate designs.  Yet while human institutions from the primitive to the most complex have some sort of order within them, it does not follow that they were or can be deliberately invented.  Hayek called the process through which societies formed over time examples of “spontaneous order”… Hayek affirmed that a free society was not one without rules or government – rulers and citizens remain constrained by the predictable rule of law, not the whims of designers.

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