Saturday, 14 April 2012

Compatibilism in Advaita

In the Western discussion about compatibilism and incompatibilism the argument seems to be chasing its tail because it is presumed that there is one and one only level that is operative namely that of material causality. The quandary then is whether taking charge of causality by allowing ourselves to be moved by causes of our own choosing is freedom that is free enough or whether this ‘freedom’ is tainted at source by being part of a causal universe. At one bound you are unfree.

Advaita in particular takes a dialectic stand. At the ordinary level often termed vyavaharika ethical conduct is regarded as propaduetic in the great project of self-realisation. Live as though the unity of being were true in order to bring you towards a realisation of its truth. However it is stressed that realisation does not come about through action/karma but through knowledge. It is only knowledge that can dispel ignorance. Ignorance is typically understood as taking something to be what it is not. One is ignorant of the things true nature.

Transcendence therefore is getting beyond the merely ethical where the self is wholly identified with the materially bound ego or the body/mind/intellect complex. This is how the antinomian element in Advaita comes to the fore. Enter the Ancient Dude, Ashtavakra. He has gotten beyond the ego programs of behavioural modification and rests in the sublime plane of nishkama karma/actionless action. He lives in the world and appears to act but in reality abides in eternity. The rewards and the punishments or punya and papa, your desserts that span from life to life in the Vedic Cosmos and that cannot be avoided are regarded as the playing out of deterministic nature for the sage.

Finally then in a purely karmic world compatibilism holds true but from a sage’s eye view action is mechanistic, both beginingless and endless and until knowledge supervenes we are bound. At the transcendent level, freedom is the knowledge of necessity. This is true even if we create our own punya/papa by selection at the lower level. This eternal round of transmigration is only ended by a realisation of our true nature.

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