May 30, 2015

Common misconception is that Indian philosophy is mystical

Hinduism is a combination of secular and sacred beliefs, rituals, daily practices and traditions that has evolved over the course of over two thousand years and embodies complex symbolism combining the natural world with philosophy. Hindu temples began as simple shrines housing a deity and by the time of the Hoysalas had evolved into well articulated edifices in which worshippers sought transcendence of the daily world. Hoysala temples were not limited to any specific organised tradition of Hinduism and encouraged pilgrims of different Hindu devotional movements. The Hoysalas usually dedicated their temples to Lord Shiva or to Lord Vishnu (two of the major Hindu gods), but they occasionally chose a different deity. Worshippers of Shiva are called Shaivas or Lingayats and worshippers of Vishnu are called Vaishnavas. While King Vishnuvardhana and his descendants were Vaishnava by faith,[6] records show that the Hoysalas maintained religious harmony by building as many temples dedicated to Shiva as they did to Vishnu.[7] Most of these temples have secular features with broad themes depicted in their sculptures.

Honestly, I don’t think most students know enough to have certain misconceptions anymore. The only common misconception is the idea that all of Indian philosophy is somehow mystical, and we have both Europeans and Indians to blame for that. It’s not hard to remove that either, by actually reading a text or two!
Also, and this is admittedly personal choice and sensibility: I am a bit wary of taking too much time away from discussing important Indian thinkers to engage in “shaming the West” sessions. Not that the latter aren’t warranted sometimes. I do point out to students how political and racial biases have prevented the full acceptance of Indian thinkers. (Incidentally, J. Barton Scott and Dan Flory have good papers on this on the APA Newsletter on Asian and Asian-American Philosophers that will be coming out soon, edited by Prasanta Bandyopadhyay and yours truly.) But, insofar as it is a course on Indian philosophy, I find off putting the idea that it is so important to systematically worry about Western misrepresentations that it warrants take time away from studying these great Indian thinkers on their own merits.
I tend to talk about misrepresentations as needed, sure, to clear away mistakes, but of course, a serious study of the Indian thinkers will do that, and better, will help students gain the capacity to illustrate such mistakes as they confront them. Not sure if I really answered your question. If not, please push me on it.

Graham Priest on why study Asian philosophy Posted on 24 May 2015 by elisa freschi1 Comment ↓
Graham Priest explains in a blog post why one should study “Eastern” philosophy (his label, probably because standard philosophy is in fact “Western” philosophy).
His post points to two reasons:
One better understands one’s own culture if one is confronted with another one 
There is progress in philosophy and new ideas can contribute to it, since progress does not arise ex nihilo. 
It is difficult not to agree. I had discussed Priest’s first point here and his second point here, while referring to an interview with Jay Garfield, and the posts have raised interesting discussions in the comments.

Two (or three) different narratives on Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta etc. Posted on 30 May 2015 by elisa freschiNo Comments ↓
Some authors tend to think that once upon a time there was one Yoga and that later this has been “altered” or has at least “evolved” into many forms. According to their own stand, they might look at this developments as meaningful adaptations or as soulless metamorphoseis.
Other authors tend to think that there were several trends of Yoga prior to a given point (usually identified with the Yogasūtra (YS) if you agree with Chapple, etc., or with the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra (PYŚ) if you agree with Bronkhorst, Maas, etc.) and that they have been unified into a single system by the author of one or the other text. A long time after that, the same authors claim, new tendencies developed out of this unitary Yoga, much like in the way described by the authors of the fist group.
A minority group of authors contests the idea of a unitary Yoga at all and says that between the various things called Yoga in Classical and Post-Classical India there are at most family resemblances and at least nothing common at all. For these authors, it does not really make sense to host a conference on Yoga with people discussing Buddhist Tantric Yoga, Pāñcarātra Yoga, the Yogasūtra’s, contemporary Yoga practices and so on.
Who is right? Difficult to say. The point is that what we have are only fragments of the whole picture and that our interpretation of it will make us interpret some scattered pieces as belonging to the same puzzle or not. Accordingly, if we assume the first perspective, we will consider a form of Yoga which is far away from Patañjali’s YS (or PYŚ) as still somehow connected with it and detect slight similarities. If we assume the third perspective, we will rather notice the differences between the two.
Similar differences in approach can be detected in the case of Sāṅkhya (where the first scenario is ruled out by the data and scholars either subscribe to the second or to the third approach), Buddhism, the two Mīmāṃsās (Parpola embraces the first scenario, Bronkhorst the third one, there are no clear data in favour of the second one), the two schools of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and so on. In the latter case, in fact, I only know scholars subscribing to the first scenario. Mumme (1988) is aware of the fact that there were differences between the two schools even before the official split, but still calls them both Śrī Vaiṣṇava and says that they were “complementary”.

Shyam Ranganathan on 20 May 2015 at 4:20 pm said: Hi Amber
I would add that if you don’t draw a moral distinction between non human animals and human animals, the discussion of animals will generally be invisible and continuous with discussions of humans or persons. I read lots of Indian philosophy this way. The Yoga Sutra strikes me as an example of this kind of approach.
But there are some comments that stand out in my mind. I can’t remember the exact reference but Ramanuja in the Vedarthasamgraha talks about how the proper perspective on yourself is to understand yourself as essentially the same as other agents, whether they are an outcaste or a dog. I always found this a powerful criticism of casteism and speciesism. Yet, in his commentary on the Brahma Sutra, he defends the practice of Vedic animal sacrifices.
He claims that this practice does animals a favour of sending them up to a higher next birth. Shankara defends the practice at the same point in his commentary: III.i.25
Kumarila Bhatta similarly defends the practice in his defense of a deontology based on Vedic injunction. He further criticizes the idea that hedonism, teleology and suffering can be a criterion of moral action. (Slokavartika II.242-47)
What I find interesting in these Brahmanical accounts is that they do not deny the personhood of animals, so much as take up the challenge of justifying treating them differently than we would humans. Indeed, the apologetics only makes sense if we assume some type of background equality of animals. Otherwise, if animals were not persons, and lacked standing, we could do whatever we want with them, without having to justify our actions. That’s largely our way these days (clearly for the worse).

Chris Framarin on 20 May 2015 at 5:51 pm said: Hi Amber,
My recent book Hinduism and Environmental Ethics: Law, Literature, and Philosophy (Routledge) sums up many of the dominant arguments in the literature regarding the moral standing of animals (and plants and other entities) – such as arguments that animals have direct moral standing because they are interconnected with the rest of nature, because they are part of God, because they have an ātman, and so on. I evaluate these arguments and offer some new ones, drawing from the Yogaśāstra, Mahābhārata, and Manusmṛti. There I discuss the burning of the Khaṇḍava Forest in the Mahābhārata, Yudhiṣṭhira’s discussion with Bhīṣma about meat eating, and others. Hope this might be of some help, Chris

andrew ollett on 29 April 2015 at 6:27 pm said: 
Since someone brought up “The Lost Age of Reason” in the context of a different post: Ganeri mentions that Raghunātha Śiromaṇi interpreted “jagat” at the beginning of the Tattvacintāmaṇi to mean all of the varṇas, including women. This is an explicit claim about the inclusivity and accessibility of philosophy. The use of masculine pronouns isn’t, although we might extrapolate certain sociological conditions from their very unmarkedness (I myself don’t feel entitled to this kind of extrapolation—we barely know anything about Vātsyāyana, and yet we feel we can make sweeping judgments about the society in which he lived?). I don’t feel compelled to introduce feminine pronouns, even when the Sanskrit is gender-neutral, any more than I feel compelled to change “Devadatta” to “Jane Smith.” In case it needs to be said: I think that one can translate “paśyati” as “he sees” and still be a feminist in word and deed, because the battle of the pronouns (especially in translations of Sanskrit philosophical texts…) is probably of much less strategic importance in the struggle for feminism than it once seemed.

Amod, you may want to glance at Ganeri’s Introduction to his recent The Lost Age of Reason. I think you will find his own comments, and the research which he cites, quite amenable to your position. In short, he notes that innovators like Bacon and Descartes were not so much breaking with tradition than departing from seeds and starts already there in the “premodern” thinkers and responding/reorienting themselves in relation to it. It’s part of his broader argument that modernity does not require a complete rupture between it and the premodern world.
You reflections on authenticity, tradition, and being challenged invite much reflection. I think I am pretty sympathetic to your tying together unlimited choice with a kind of stagnancy: we can always find something out there that comports with our own current conditioned attitudes. Of course, this turns on its head our way of thinking about cosmopolitanism, wide-ranging exposure to various views of life, and the experience of modernity.
An apt quotation from Chesterton (Heretics):
The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce variety and uncompromising divergences of men…In a large community, we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized society groups come into existence founded upon sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique.

May 14, 2015

Systematic study and continued focus is a power of change

Quartz-08-May-2015 Annalisa Merelli - May 8, 2015
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek isn't one to shy away from provocative observations. In a video published on the portal Big Think, he takes ...
“I’m well aware that we should not just walk around and humiliate each other,” says the philosopher. And yet he finds that “there is something so fake about political correctness”—something that, according to him, prevents a true overcoming of prejudice and racism. Žižek explains:
That’s my problem with political correctness. It’s just a form of self discipline which doesn’t really allow you too overcome racism. It’s just oppressed, controlled racism.

Texts are hard

The lecture at Shimer yesterday was very good. One point that Prof. McKenzie kept highlighting is that we in the liberal arts are “overdeployed” in text-oriented activities, while other forms of cultural production are seemingly outside our purview. He gave the example that we all learn to draw in some rudimentary way in grade school, but then that stops early on for most of us — and once we come around to teaching college, we’re lost as to how we would assess a visually-oriented student project. I know I feel pretty out of my depth when it comes to grading creative projects, and I’m not even one to think (as many academics do) that choosing a creative project over a paper is per sea scam to avoid genuine work. Overall, he argued that if we can find ways to help students generate arguments and narratives in media other than text, we’ll be better equipping them for the digital world.
writers have no guarantee that people will actually read their long texts, and readers have no guarantee that they will derive any benefit from a long text. The modes of connecting writers to readers remain primitive and scattershot.

But make no mistake--no human writer, no matter how “superintelligent,” will ever surpass Shakespeare. No musician will surpass Beethoven, or even John Coltrane or Van Morrison, for that matter. No human philosopher will ever surpass Plotinus, or Eckhart, or Aurobindo, or the Upanishads, because knowledge of the ultimate cannot surpass itself, any more than artistic perfection can surpass itself. There is just “perfection.” One either achieves (or approaches) it or one does not...The singularity is already here. So quit complaining and just enjoy it. posted by Gagdad Bob at 7:13 AM

Sri Aurobindo Studies
We have seen the inability of the mental consciousness to solve any of the myriad issues or problems of life and harmony. We can recognize that the complexity of the world goes far beyond the realm of what can be grasped by Mind. Thus, Sri Aurobindo’s solution, the transformative effect of the spiritual consciousness descending into the world and addressing the issues in a comprehensive, global and integrated way, remains the only realistic solution we have found to achieve harmony, peace and balance in the manifested world within which we live and act.
Since the integral Yoga does not have a fixed and invariable routine or set of specific steps to be universally applied, such as are found in various other forms of Yoga, there is a considerable difficulty for the seeker in terms of what needs to be done, and how one knows that the practice is correct and aiming towards the intended conclusion. Sri Aurobindo sets forth several “rules” that can aid the seeker in this Yoga:
Elsewhere Sri Aurobindo describes the “test” for putting away of desire and craving, to be determined by a serene and peaceful equality of soul to all, as well as to every event or situation. The focus of the ego on its own fulfillment, its own ideas, its own wants, needs, desires or satisfactions may lead to outer success, but will not provide the inner basis for the yogic action to progress quickly and effectively. The intention here is not to impose a set of moral principles, rules, requirements or strictures on the outer being, but to effectuate a true inner change of standpoint and basis of response:

thanks for writing. the specific purpose of this blog is to systematically explore, page by page, the writings of Sri Aurobindo. the application of the principles and the teachings is of course for each individual to undertake. since we are studying this material systematically, the specifics of results and applications must be left to the right place and time in the texts where these issues are addressed, as well as to the insight and experience of those who are undertaking the sadhana over time. with respect to “bad people”, the process does not imply elimination of people. that is a mental concept. over time as circumstances change, and as the texture of consciousness on the planet undergoes a change, the responses of people to their environment naturally change, just as the development of the mental consciousness did not, in and of itself, do away with the forms and beings that represented the consciousness of the Life-Force or the world of Matter.

the systematic study allows each individual to gain new insight and opportunity to apply the teaching in a more and more comprehensive way in their own lives. the integral yoga does not have a fixed method that can be applied to all people; but rather, depends on the individual opening to the consciousness that is descending and applying the methodology of aspiration, rejection and surrender to the process that takes place internally. As that occurs, the individual begins to change in terms of the way he/she understands the life, the interactions of life and the world within which the life occurs, and subtle and even at times not so subtle changes begin to occur. The question of then applying this to society at large is more a question of the increasing pressure of this force on more and more individuals and the sum total of those changes. The yoga is not “theoretical’ but requires each individual to find the application within himself and carry it out sincerely. There are numerous posts over the last few years that look at the characteristics that the individual acquires or the “signs of the liberated man” for instance. We spent a lot of time on this in the study of the Essays on the Gita for instance, which preceded the review of the Synthesis of Yoga. Another text that has a lot of practical information is The Mother which was even earlier than the Essays on the Gita review. The point of the study is that the information has been systematically developed in detail, but most of us tend to either miss a lot of this information or are not really aware of what is contained in depth in these texts to help us implement the sadhana. So the idea of going page by page and highlighting the main points seemed to be a reasonable approach. What each individual actually does with this is of course, up to them. We find however that this type of systematic study and turning of the mind towards these subjects, and the aspiration that awakens as a result and gets fired up by continued focus, is itself a power of change for the individual.

as an addendum to the above reply, this is not about “morality” or passing judgment on any individual. each soul needs to confront its issues in its own time and in its own way. the transformation which Sri Aurobindo writes about is not something that gets imposed on individuals from outside, but something that grows up from within through a culturing of consciousness, which develops as a combined action of the aspiration from within meeting the response from above. This is not a matter of some kind of moral law or rule, and comes as an inner awakening and awareness as time goes on. the NEXT chapter we are studying starting tomorrow is Standards of Conduct and Spiritual Freedom and it may be that in that chapter some of your questions will begin to be addressed.

i have tried not to assume anything at all about you, but to respond from my perspective on what this current blog is about. i undertook this study so as to deepen my own insight and understanding and am not trying to teach anyone about anything. people have indicated they find benefit in following the page by page approach that i am pursuing and that is fine with me as it is not “about me” or “for me” in that sense. I agree fully with you that the inner experience is paramount. The turning of the mind in the right direction can assist in that process and certainly helps when it comes to the implementations that the mind needs to assist with. i have not had the opportunity to go to your link as of yet.
:) Ideology and 'aqeedah' goes only so far.
Principles are whims of the mind just as desires are whims of the vital.

[Pondicherry Ashram is a place meant to help you see all that is imperfect, false, distorted, and insincere in you.]

Sri Aurobindo : Neither reason nor experience nor intuition nor imagination bears witness to us of the possibility of a final terminus