Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Hinduism by Jonardon Ganeri (from Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Religion pub. 2010)

If we were to bake a Hinduism cake what ingredients would we put into it? Clamour of bells at arati, the waving of burning camphor, pre-dawn chanting of 'asato ma, sat gamaya , yoga, the fully naked sage padding along a road with his water pot and staff, first feeding ceremony, Brahmins with thread over their ears drying off after a dip in the Ganges, the smell of the garlands in Bangalore City Market, Gita, Upanishads. I could go on but finally and ever and always – darshan, darshan of the murti, the teacher, your innermost self in meditation.

Now compare that to the alternative cake of Nyaya logic and disputations concerning the empirical foundation of the fruits of sacrifice offered by Jonardon Ganeri in his note on Hinduism in A Companion to Philosophy of Religion. Falls flat doesn't it? Not that its not an ingredient but it would take a scholar to spot it. It's the sort of hard tack that sustains but barely his lucubrations. The cause of this fallen cake is not hard to discover and its aetiology requires no acute investigation. There is an embarrassment about the relationship between Hinduism and religion, it seems more the province of mad mystics and not the detached logical explorations of the philosopher. How else will the study of Hinduism, if you accept that label, be moved from the Religious Studies Department to the more prestigious Department of Philosophy?

Monday, 15 September 2014

Hindu Conversion II

Thoughtful, objective analysis reveals that all Gods are but partial manifestations of the same purusa, Sri Krsna, and all Goddesses partial expressions of the primal sakti, Sri Radha. Krsna possesses all attributes of divinity found in other incarnations as well as aspects found in him alone. There can be only one God, yet . . . he has many expressions of himself. ~ Swami Tripurari (Rasa: Love Relationships in Transcendence, p. 71)

Hinduism is like the Irish Tourist Board slogan with a picture of a country road and the legend the road you're on will take you there. One can see from the opening quote of a leading figure in ISKON that they regard Krishna as the main highway. In that sense they are unusual and fall outside the standard 'all paths are one and no one path is superior' doctrine. They also reject the saguna (formful)/nirguna(formless) characterisation of Brahman. Vishnu then would be an incarnation of, a ray of, Krishna. The division of doctrine into the vyavaharika and the paramarthika namely that which can be understood as limited and provisional and that which is beyond conceptual understanding and is a matter of realization; is also rejected by Swami Tripurari. That quote is taken from a statement by Dr. Michael Sudduth who became a convert to Gaudiya Vaishnavism (G.V.).
gaudiya vaishnavism
Obviously Hinduism is so broad a church that it encompasses all positions including proselytism but speaking purely from the vyavaharika position it is logically counter to the main understanding of sanathana dharma which baffled missionaries. 'Yes, yes', the target group would say with that assenting wobble, 'Jesus is God, all are God'. If they were already there how could they be brought there. Samuel Taylor Coleridge thought this was due to a lack of concentration:

APHORISM XVIII. (Aids to Reflection)
Examine the journals of our zealous missionaries, I will not say among the Hottentots or Esquimaux, but in the highly civilized, though fearfully uncultivated, inhabitants of ancient India. How often, and how feelingly, do they describe the difficulty of rendering the simplest chain of thought intelligible to the ordinary natives, the rapid exhaustion of their whole power of attention, and with what distressful effort it is exerted while it lasts! Yet it is among these that the hideous practices of self-torture chiefly prevail. O, if folly were no easier than wisdom, it being often so very much more grievous, how certainly might these unhappy slaves of superstition be converted to Christianity! But, alas! to swing by hooks passed through the back, or to walk in shoes with nails of iron pointed upwards through the soles—all this is so much less difficult, demands so much less exertion of the will than to reflect, and by reflection to gain knowledge and tranquillity!
It is not true, that ignorant persons have no notion of the advantages of truth and knowledge. They confess, they see and bear witness to these advantages in the conduct, the immunities, and the superior powers of the possessors. Were they attainable by pilgrimages the most toilsome, or penances the most painful, we should assuredly have as many pilgrims and self-tormentors in the service of true religion, as now exist under the tyranny of Papal or Brahman superstition.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Conversion to Hinduism

Matthew Disti on the Indian Philosophy Scholars group blog:
Also, it’s hard to take the claim that genuine converts don’t count as real Hindus or Buddhists to be anything more than fashionable racism. By “convert” I mean people who have taken some formal connection to a tradition–or something analogous–and aren’t just dreamy hippies.

Conversion is an interesting subject to discuss and the first thing that may be said that is indisputable is that Buddhism is an openly proselytizing religion so there is no doubt that one can become a convert to it. Hinduism is different with the oft heard claim that theirs is not a proselytizing religion and their well observed resentment of the poaching of their members by other religions. There is a certain amount of ambivalence on this front as there is a standing army of swamis in Europe and North America. ‘Certainly’, the response would be, ‘Sanathana Dharma is the natural birthright of everyone and it does not require any formal induction naming ceremonies, commisioning of japamalas (rosaries) and the like’. Another objection not generally voiced but which to me seems insuperable is that unless you are born into a caste you cannot assume the duties of a member of that caste as laid down by the dharma shastras. However there is no central authority in Hinduism, itself a contested label, that would disallow some Swami to create his own induction and conferring ceremony. There might even be a little charge for it, have you looked at the price of ghee recently, and coconuts, aiyo. ‘Then there’s garlands and sphatik japamalas and rudraksha from the far Himalya. Ganga jal. Very costly. Martin Luther had only 39 articles itself, much more is wanted for us.’

swami can get it wholesale

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Sincerely, Willis Wayde by John Phillips Marquand (pub. 1955)

I have as Willis Wayde frequently says, thirty odd times to be imprecise, a ‘warm spot in my heart’ for the writing of John Phillips Marquand. He takes a risk in bringing before the reading public a character that might be considered radically unsympathetic, the successful businessman merging and liquidising his way to a fortune yet feeling that there is always something more; the unattainable vision of a way of life that he cannot buy. In a sly Proustian nod, the narrator tells us:

Willis Wayde, before he went to sleep, could shut his eyes and see every detail of the Harcourt place. He had never owned it and had never coveted it, but as his father might have said in engineering language, it did serve as a base of reference. In engineering when you set out to make a map, you started running your line and reading off from some fixed mark, and in life too everyone possessed some solid starting point. The Harcourt place and everything around it was like this for Willis, and whether he liked the idea or not, it meant more to him than any place he had ever owned or rented.

It’s a Platonic thing.

The father mentioned is Alf Wayde, an engineer, inventor and all round fixer. When Willis was young he came to the Harcourt belting factory to manage its mechanical section. The family are set up in a fine house on the grounds of the Harcourt residence built by the grandfather from plans by an English architect. The grounds are mature, and there’s a lake with swans and a retinue of servants, indoor and outdoor. It’s New England feudal but Old Harcourt is shrewd and knows that it is rude mechanicals such as Alf that keep an operation like his running smoothly and making money. In fact it is Alf’s insistence on buying the Klaus belting patents that sustains them through the depression. He is a restless individual who when everything is fixed and problems have been solved wants to move on to the next challenge. Cunning old Harcourt knows that and overseeing and sponsoring the education of Willis is part of his strategy to keep Alf there. In doing so he begins to see that the boy has real potential to be a future manager on the business side. This is all the more vital because his own son and grandson have no business instinct. The novel opens when Willis is 15 and the year 1922. His association with Harcourt belting lasts through his education at Boston University and Harvard Business School. All this time he is learning the business thoroughly working at the plant in every section of it during his holidays.

The granddaughter Bess Harcourt should have been the boy because she has the grandfather’s astuteness. She is of course beautiful. Willis and her have a romantic attachment but both know that the social gulf between them cannot be crossed. He still hopes but when she becomes engaged, to a Harvard man, naturally, he leaves and takes up a job with a New York firm of management consultants.

Marquand skillfully manages the authorial distance from his subject by adopting a cool detached tone that is simply descriptive. He won’t lead you or underline or strew exclamation marks about. It’s drawing by limning the negative space. This is how Willis appears to his father-in-law Professor Hodges.

“Dear me," Mr. Hodges said, "there have to be zeros somewhere. Four zeros in ten thousand dollars, and more in a million. That's the trouble with money, there must be a lot of zeros."
Willis wished he knew whether Mr. Hodges was being funny or serious, but it was a good remark and one Willis always remembered. Mr. Hodges had been right. You had to sacrifice a lot of things if you made money.

Marquand has fun with self-improvement, Carnegie Smiles strategies and Dr. Eliot’s 5 Foot Shelf and the 15 minutes of reading it a day that will make you a rounded person. This is not satire, just filling in the empty part of the zero. The life of Willis Wade as he makes his way to the presidency of a major corporation develops along a path of bland ruthlessness. He always keeps a photo of his mother,his wife and his children in the hotel suites where he entertains because a family man is trusted.

The author is a master of narrative and it’s uncanny how after being so successful in his day he has dropped into utter neglect. Can you imagine this happening to John Updike? Maybe. I will be reading this book again, as a matter of personal rounding. Excellent.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

More on Vedic Words

The topic of Vedic words or universals if you will is one that I have considered in various posts.vedic words
bijas Here I will attempt to get at the truth that the myth embodies while admitting that any interpretation does not exhaust that path to understanding. A myth is never eviscerated by explication but remains a living path.

In his discussion of ‘eternal words’ in B.S.B. I.iii.28 Shankara deals with the standard objection. That contra-vedantin contrarian, the opponent, (purvapakshin) states the obvious – First the son is born and then the son is named. You experience the object and then you name it. Somehow the universal is extracted out of this raw ore.

No, since the relationship between such generic words and their meanings, as for instance cowhood and cows, is seen to be eternal (i.e. beginingless). Not that the distinguishing characteristics (i.e. genus)of the cows etc. are created afresh each time these cows etc. are born; for the individual forms of substance qualities and actions alone can have origin, but not so their distinguishing (general) characteristics (i.e. genus). And words are connected with the general characteristics and not with the individuals; for the individuals are infinite, and it is impossible to comprehend the relation of a word (with all of them).

The paradoxical result of this doctrine is that we do not meet particulars except in the form of characteristics or accidents in the scholastic terminology but we know their aggregation in the form of universals, substantially embodied as it were. Does he mean by non-original characteristics those that can only exist as embodied i.e. colour, weight, size etc. So ‘elephant’ is an eternal word but not its weightiness, greyness, velocity, and call.

Calling the universals vedic words or eternal words arises from the belief that the Vedas arrive in the same form at each new creation.

Brahma created the gods by (thinking of) the word etc.; He created men and others by the word asrgram; by the word indavah the manes by the word tirabpavitram the planets; by the word asavah the hymns……

As an analogical point Shankara remarks:

Besides, it is a matter of experience to us all that when one has to accomplish some desired thing, one remembers first the word denoting it and then accomplishes it. Similarly it is understood that in the case of Prajapati (Brahman) also, when he was intent on creation, the Vedic words flashed in His mind before creation and then He created the things according to these.

A myth is greater than any interpretation and so to speculate about the meaning behind it or to see in it the personal genesis of a world is not reductionist. Out of the ‘blooming buzzing confusion’ which is a solidary particular comes the differentiated cosmos initially created by pure perception as Bergson held (cf. Matter and Memory chap. 1). Later comes the mature, memory inflected, perception which we adopt for the purpose of speed in the navigation of a dangerous world. We shot our uncle in the hunting season not because he looked like a moose for even with his glasses on he doesn’t look like a moose, but because of a blundering movement on his part that was the movement of a startled moose.

Out of the formless chaos comes names. One of the experiences which is cultivated by Yogis is the return to the undifferentiated which occurs when mind waves are eliminated – citta vritti nirodha. Coming back out of that state and re-making your world brings with it the possibility of a different vision or a creative re-organisation. It is a ‘reculer pour mieux sauter’.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Shankara on Buddhism

There have been many attempts to establish a naturalist approach to Buddhism which has gained a certain following amongst philosophers and intellectuals. Rocket scientists at prayer sort of. Massimo Pigliucci
massimo v graham
demurs in terms which are far more polite than Shankara’s.

To be brief, from every point of view that this Buddhist doctrine may be examined for finding out some justification, it breaks down like a well sunk in sand; and we do not find any the least logic here. Hence all behaviour based on the Buddhist scripture is unjustifiable. Moreover, Buddha exposed his own incoherence in talk when he instructed the three mutually contradictory theories of the existence of external objects, existence of consciousness, and absolute nihilism; or he showed his malevolence towards all creatures, acting under the delusion that these creature would get confused by imbibing contradictory views. The idea is that the Buddhist view should be abjured in every way by all who desire the highest good. (B.S.B. II.ii.32)

Intemperate stuff really though the philosophical arguments that he makes in the sections preceding are to my mind cogent. He declines to consider Sunyavada/Madhyamika, systematised by Nagarjuna :

As for the view of the absolute nihilist; no attempt is made for its refutation since it is opposed to all means of valid knowledge. For human behaviour, conforming as does to all right means of valid knowledge, cannot be denied so long as a different order of reality is not realized; for unless there be an exception, the general rule prevails. (B.S.B. II.ii.31)

Does that make Shankara an internalist or an externalist? Surely that dyad is the most bewildering form of characterisation of an epistemological standpoint that over subtle philosophers have come up with. That it is known to be such is evinced by the need to explain in detail why a particular position is one or the other. Otiose and obfuscatory. Says Tim van Gelder in the Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy:

In the 1980’s , the pair internalism/externalism gained currency in epistemological contexts, where it is applied, though not without terminological confusion, to the analysis of knowledge and of justified true belief.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Genteel Humanism

I notice the word ‘humanist’ being used by Americans to refer to those that study the humanities and regard the liberal arts generally as a source of the values that form civilisation. Is it a revival of the Renaissance usage which with its opposition to Scholasticism had a secular cast? Modern British usage of the term ‘humanist’ retains this and has displaced the need to attach the qualifier ‘secular’.

Is this an American ‘genteelism’ or may we see in it the continuous attempt to banish religious values to the margins? Very likely both I think.