Monday, 17 September 2012

Identity and Upadhi

There’s an interesting contrast between the western metaphysicians who have considered the problem of identity and the Eastern sages for whom it was a lifetime quest. The who-am-I inquiry for Ramana Maharshi is made into the purpose of life whilst for Lewis or Parfitt it seems just another topic to be made interesting by the devising of science fiction scenarios to stress test their concepts. The level of seriousness or engagement seems trifling in comparison and it may be significant that when the Western metaphysician turns to the East for inspiration it is Buddhism of a nihilist cast that captures his attention.

The problem of personal identity is fraught by circularity because it cannot be isolated and therefore it creeps into our definition of it through insidious assumptions. Without ruling out the consideration of identity over time, its persistence and whether the understanding of that persistence is fraught by a facile analysis the sages preferred to remain in the present moment in which each state, if indeed a state, is saturated by I-ness or that experience of self-identity which is ‘kuthasta’- solid as an anvil. The feeling is, that if this experience is understood then the problem of its continuity over a series of point instants will be dissolved.

What that understanding means in the advaitic tradition is not a breaking down of a problem into its elements and seeing how they all fit together it is more a sinking down into, and a complete feeling of, the reality of the intuition of self-identity.

Mental Modifications:(from Upadesasahasri by Shankaracarya)
The teacher said to him,"your doubt is not justifiable, for you,
the Self, are proved to be free from change, and therefore perpetually
the same on the ground that all the modifications of the mind are
(simultaneously) known by you. You regard this knowledge of all the
modifications which is the reason for the above inference as that for
your doubt. If you were changeful like the mind or the senses (which
pervade their objects one after another), you would not simultaneously know all the mental modifications, the objects of your knowledge. Nor are you aware of a portion only of the objects of your knowledge (at a time). You are, therefore, absolutely changeless."

At the same time the sage Ramana is willing to have Lewisian fun with his devotees:

In Talks with Ramana Maharshi the paradox is clearly stated:
Devotee: There was the case of the boy who was seven years old. "He recalls his past births. Enquiries show that the previous body was given up 10 months ago. The question now arises how the matter stood for 6 years and 2 months previous to the death of the former body. Did the soul occupy two bodies at the same time?
Sri Bhagavan pointed out that the seven years is according to the boy; 10 months is according to the observer. The difference is due to these two different upadhis. The boy's experience extending to seven years has been calculated by the observer to cover only 10 months of his own time."

The upadhis are different. But what is an upadhi? Various analogies are given but for Ramana’s purposes we can generalise. Everything that exists as an individual does so as an upadhi/limiting adjunct/form of limitation. It is a manifestation of pure being as that individual thing. The individual mind for instance is an upadhi of pure consciousness. Spacetime is also an upadhi and of course the individuals within this continuum appear under its dispensation. When that dispensation is altered or abated, when physical bodies no longer have the same power or presence, then the particular upadhis of body and mind i.e. the Jiva/Person are also altered and the rules of the normal spacetime continuum and sequence change. Thus “the upadhis are different”.

Because there is serious involvement with the problem then the fun has the capacity to throw new facets into view. Paradoxoi and aporiai come when identity is stretched over a period of time. Is that significant?


ktismatics said...

So by "Lewisian fun" you mean that Ramana did not intend for his remarks about the seven-year-old to be taken seriously?

ombhurbhuva said...

If I chose to be portentous I could say - everything a sage says is serious fun. However Lewis with his fission and fusion thought experiments would probably not or possibly might accept that there was overlap that could be explained by a different conceptual schema. His possible worlds he took to be real, ontically real, though they might never actually occurred. Many strange events occur in the life of a sage of the advaitic persuasion which are ontically unreal. So all this samsara is lila/sport.

ktismatics said...

Last night we watched Ostrov, or The Island, a Russian movie about a small monastery on a remote northern island. The resident holy man, a healer and a seer, is known by his brothers as The Prankster. There is a long tradition of the Holy Fool in Orthodoxy; maybe there's some overlap with the "serious fun" practiced by Hindu sages. I agree that it would be serious fun for someone who has attained awareness of his absolutely changeless identity suddenly to have his self swapped out for someone who just died.

ombhurbhuva said...

Yes indeed there are stories of body swaps and the creation and inhabitation of multiple bodies. Bilocation is a phenomenon which trounces the spacetime continuum. Do you feel a certain pressure about the temples as paradox takes hold? As to Holy Fools Meher Baba used to go round gathering up ‘masts’ or or apparent lunatics who were unhinged by some yogic experience that they were not quite ready for. He established an ashram for them where they could be brought to a state of calm and peace.