Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Chalk Circle

Reading Helen De Cruz’s lucid post
mystical perception
(crossposted at Prosblogion:
mystical experience

I was reminded of the Caucasian Chalk Circle in Gurdjieff’s Meetings with Remarkable Men.
 I was deep in my work when suddenly I heard a desperate shriek. I jumped up, certain that an accident had happened to one of the children during their play. I ran and saw the following picture:
In the middle of a circle drawn on the ground stood one of the little boys, sobbing and making strange movements, and the others were standing at a certain distance laughing at him. I was puzzled and asked what it was all about.
I learned that the boy in the middle was a Yezidi, that the circle had been drawn round him and that he could not get out of it until it was rubbed away. The child was indeed trying with all his might to leave this magic circle, but he struggled in vain. I ran up to him and quickly rubbed out part of the circle, and immediately he dashed out and ran away as fast as he could.

Such is the case with De Cruz - a scruple of chalk is mighty powerful ju-ju. ‘Chalk’ here represents the secular academic world view in which the naturalistic criteria of what counts as data apply. This is readily seen in the comments on New Apps which would be her home planet. For them subjective reports even if consistent and community wide cannot be the basis of a rational assessment particularly when other communities with different practices and different fundamental beliefs also achieve states of gnosis. These are classic rejoinders from within the redoubt of scientism and induce what in the tales of the Fenians was called a ‘magic sleep’ (suan draíochta). On Planet Prosblogion, very very far from this one (sorry!) there is an attempt at rationalist engagement which is worthy but has to fail and not just because the judge is wearing a lab coat.

In the end someone has to rub out part of the chalk circle to release you.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Counterpositive shaped Hole

The odd title of this post will become clear I hope in a moment. The first thing to do when trying to come to grips with a concept is to find out the where and why of it. The notion of the counterpositive comes up in relation to perception (c.f. Vedanta Paribhasa on Perception) particularly in relation to erroneous perception i.e. confusion. We take something to be that which it is not. Now the problem arises - what is the ontological status of our confused reality. The mother of pearl is taken to be silver (precious metal). Must we then admit that for the time that we were under that illusion we were experiencing silver and on being disabused are only entitled to say 'I am not seeing silver now’.

The advaitin in response to this simply states that what is denied is not the existence of illusory silver i.e. the existence of a non-existence, which is otiose. You are denying the existence of the counterpositive i.e. real silver, in that locus. Silveriness in truth abides in its own substratum of silver.

The point of the concept of the counterpositive is to preserve the primal substratum ontology. If you did not have a substratum ontology you would be left with a sense data/phenomenalist ontology in which silver existed momentarily as it was experienced as such. The substratum ontology is also vital for the concept of superimposition/adhyasa.

Another translation suggested for pratiyogin (literally ‘opponent’) is absentee, thus my title of the counterpositive shaped hole for the silver in the nacre.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Going to Ceylon (2)

It may sound strange to you but the fact is that sometimes I see people who would like to come to me, walking along this street, but they cannot find my house.
(spoken by the 'Magician' (Gurdjieff ?)from The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by Ouspensky)

Yes, so I had arrived in Delhi with a certain sense that a fate was a fait accompli. Still you can't just decide your own fate in the way that might be expressed as 'this has to happen so I will decide to make it happen'. This is a 'saved' Calvinist tense that I could not comprehend then and cannot now. I could not simply decide to make my journey home a pilgrimage as a freak of my own, it was not part of my religion sanctioned by God or Guru. No, it was too dangerous to go all that way through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece,Yugoslavia, Austria, Germany, England and then finally to Ireland penniless. It amounted to unwarranted testing of my luck and would end in death by the side of the road. I had given my contact address as the American Express office in Delhi to my parents and I knew that they would send some money there or so I thought but I hadn't come right out and asked for it, a double-minded vacillation while entertaining my romantic project.

No money came to the American Express for me and though someone who had befriended me at the Siva Temple near Connaught Circus was giving me meals of chapati and vegetable curry I was sleeping at the railway station. 'Excellent facilities at the Delhi Railway Station' said a fellow sleeper in in the waiting room. While sleeping there I had my recurring dream of being harried by a large dog. Suddenly a figure appeared in a black robe with a spear like a Sikh sadhu. Flinging this at the dog he killed it on the spot. I have never had that dream since.

I was getting the feeling that it was time to move on so the ultimate recourse of the marooned traveler would have to be resorted to – the Embassy.

When I look at the journal again, its violet ink retains its fin de siècle tint, I see that there are a great many references to glyphs and symbols that now baffle me. It is as though I swam in a sea of omens and when I think of it the sea is itself for mariners a force that cannot be controlled and gives rise to the multitude of superstitions that chart it on the subtle plane. It was the alertness of fear and its attempt to control through augury what cannot be so controlled that made me interpretive beyond reason.  I note the remark on the top of a page “I wouldn’t like to tell a psychiatrist any of this”.

In any case I made for the Irish Embassy which was in the region of Golf Links Road at that time.  I probably walked there and I remember that the day was foggy.  This was in late November.  I had the address and I walked up and down but couldn’t find it.  I wasn’t lost or anything like that, the fog wasn’t so bad  but having spent hours looking for it I finally gave up the search.  The strange thing is that two years later I was in Delhi and had reason to go to the Embassy and I walked straight there  It was a  nice villa in a very pucca neighborhood right where I had been looking.

‘This is not meant to be’, I said to myself and turned to make my way back.  An elderly man passing by stopped  and started talking to me.  He turned out to be a devotee of Baba’s and he brought me along with him to a youth club that he was connected with.  He gave me tea there and let me sleep on the floor for the night then in the morning he gave me breakfast and 20 Rupees.  Having changed my mind or accepted that I should not have recourse to the Embassy  the speed at which my fortune altered was, what else, a sign.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Accentuate the Counterpositive

The Indians, in asserting the non-existence of every term in possible experience, not only free the spirit from idolatry, but free the realm of spirit (which is that of intuition) from limitation ; because if nothing that appears exists, anything may appear without the labour and expense of existing.........
(from Chap.VIII Scepticism and Animal Faith

Santayana’s characterisation of Vedanta has been informed by the customary imprecision of Indian commentators and perhaps a tendency to draw the sceptical conclusion of the argument from illusion when presented with the snake/rope analogy. Things do exist but they exist as an appearance or manifestation. They do not have a free-standing reality, their reality is dependent or contingent. They have no necessary existence. When the rope appears as a snake this appearance has its reality in the substratum of the rope. It is also the case that the rope could not appear as a snake unless there were snakes in reality. The unreal snake has as counterpositive (pratiyogin) the real snake. In this way illusion has a basis in reality, it does not signify pure non-existence. There is a real substratum i.e. the rope and a real snake as a counterpositive.

The other thing that is forgotten in relation to Advaita Vedanta is that perception is taken to be veridical unless there is some defect in the conditions in which perception takes place. So given good sight in clear daylight and sobriety I can say with assurance ‘that’s a tree in the yard’. I can’t recall any discussion of absolutely sceptical brain-in-vat scenarios in which illusion is incorrigible.

It is the Indians who have insisted most sincerely and intrepidly on the non-existence of everything given, even adjusting their moral regimen to this insight. Life is a dream, they say : and all experienced events are illusions. In dreaming of nature and of ourselves we are deceived, even in imagining that we exist and are deceived and dreaming.  Some aver, indeed, that there is a universal dreamer, Brahma, slumbering and breathing deeply in all of us, who is the reality of our dreams, and the negation of them. 

Though the Swamis will say this sort of thing and early advaita has a great deal of illusionism in it cf. Gaudapada’s Karikas, the mature philosophy represented in the commentaries on the Upanishads by Shankara are more nuanced. In any case this cosmic illusion is not a sceptical position which is related to empirical fallibility wrought to its uttermost.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Aerodrome by Rex Warner

Rex Warner is probably best known for his novel The Aerodrome(pub.1941) which has achieved the paradoxical status of being famous for not being more well known. This is the log rolling of publicists which has just the effect of activating the 'ho-hum' response which is akin to a knee jerk but with a strong apathy vector. Then I found it, a slimly elegant Penguin in very nice condition dating from the Hitler war. On the inside back cover I am told:

Zoning now restricts Mars to the Southern Counties. So here's hoping for quick victory – and plenty of Mars for everyone – everywhere.

Warner was a classical scholar and this perhaps accounts for the exceptional complexity and interconnections of the family relations in the novel. It is as though that Theban template had been overlaid on Britain at peace in the 1940's. The locale is a village situated near to an aerodrome. For the moment the two are in an uneasy but distant relationship bucolic Feudal contra Futurist, worship of the machine, force and the great organisation which will put everything right. The rector has his own secrets, deep and dark. One of them is that Roy the protagonist and narrator is not his natural son. On Roy's 21st. birthday this information is delivered via a toast. A bizarre lack of tact one might say and there are many such swerves of narrative direction in the book. Kafka has been mentioned as an influence on Warner and that odd normalisation of intense contrasts told as directly as a report from head office has its power.

The aerodrome is a hatchery for Supermen who are beyond morality except the morality of having no morals. In fact we are later told ordinary pilots will no longer be used so the training is more a matter of achieving through indoctrination a certain type. One of the high points for me is the speech to the graduating airmen by the Air Vice-Marshal. It begins:

”Some of you” , said the Air Vice-Marshal, “are still thinking about your parents and your homes. You may be considering who or what your parents are, what are their sources of their incomes, the situations and dimensions of their houses. Please put all that out of your minds directly. For good or evil you are yourselves, poised for a brief and dazzling flash of time between two annihilations. Reflect, please, that 'parenthood', 'ownership', 'locality' are the words of those who stick to the mud of the past to form the fresh deposit of the future. And so is 'marriage'. Those words are without wings. I do not care to hear an airman use them.

The subtitle of this novel is a love story and that involves Bess and Roy. It does not fly straight and 'happy landings' seem to be out of the question as the Air Ministry take over the village and begin to impose their brand of nihilism. Anybody growing up in the 30's would have had empirical acquaintance of this subreption of society by a plausible future.

I found it an excellent read, a mere 192 pages quite condensed and full of incident, philosophically deep and a sense of the pain and anguish of love when it is committed to another free agent who can betray it.

The BBC did a faithful version of it :
The Aerodrome
quite good. Some reviews from the Amazon site where new copies are available may be of interest.

"The value of The Aerodrome as literature becomes increasingly apparent at each rereading ... an intensely original work."—Anthony Burgess. "A moral dialogue thrown into narrative form. It is humanity versus power, sprawling fife versus death-dealing regimentation.... A parable worth reading."—New York Times. "The beauty of his prose, unsurpassed by any living English writer, has nothing to do with `fine writing' but springs from a sound moral core and from an intelligence with the keenest edge."—C. Day Lewis.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Forward Memory

The journal that I mentioned before in Going to Ceylon
is like a palimpsest in which by the magic of ultra-violet recovery some lost message is deciphered. There are hieroglyphics in it no doubt influenced by Bayley’s Lost Language of Symbolism
Lost Language
which was an influence as were the cones and gyres of Yeats. However meaning fades even as I look at it and my only hope is the cultivation of the godess Mnemosyne.

One of the forms of memory which adepts cultivate is forward memory a term I prefer to pre-cognition as it retains the fallibility which we accept with normal memory. There is a tincture of Lethe waters even with the simple past but the future is usually a full strength potion. In dreams there may be mitigation of that opacity and in that liminal state between waking and sleep, the hypnagogic, there can be a dart forward to the future before the shutters come down. Luckily we can only know that it was a future when it becomes a future but the oddness of the images and their disconnection from the events of the day give that uncanny flavour which the adept can discern. Like Macbeth we may be won with honest trifles and betrayed in matters of deepest consequence so I prefer to not dabble in divination by oneiromancy.

We Westerners slept on the closed in veranda of the cottages of the long-term residents of the ashram and like everybody else except mad dogs and Englishmen took a long siesta after our midday meal. Just before waking I had a strange dream in which I was listening to the boom, boom, boom of Big Ben and somebody talking about the rag trade in London which was removed from my daily life in South India geographically and noetically. Very strange.

Some months later hitch hiking in Iran I got a lift from a man in a large American limousine. He put on the radio to the BBC world service, boom, boom and then a news item on the rag trade just as I had earlier dreamed. An honest trifle but the matter of deepest consequence was whether I would ever get home being penniless and no money having arrived from my parents at New Delhi and Kabul. It seemed that I was to be kept to my promise to go home as a pilgrim relying only on God to sustain me. Before he dropped me off the driver pressed 500 reals on me which was just enough to get me from Erzurum to Istanbul by train. In December that part of Eastern Turkey is very cold and I would surely have perished on the road.

This was a sign to me that I was going home, that the interim had already happened and I would just have to surrender and complete it but it was like being toyed with being left to the very last moment to be rescued.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Ole Anderson and Young Hemingway

Hemingway had a fictive go at killing off Sherwood Anderson in his short story The Killers when he sent the vaudville deadly duo Al and Max to rub out; the scriptive erasure is appropriate, a fighter called Ole Anderson. Ole Sherwood had slighted Young Hem unforgivably by helping him in various ways. In a story, a not very good story, Anderson in The Fight from the collection Death in the Woods mocks the Hemingway circularity and plain prose. Hurt feelings don’t generally make for great literature. The word ‘shabby’ barnacle encrusted with judgement seems right for the younger man’s behaviour.

I’ve been reading Winesburg, Ohio recently and re-evaluating the respective positions of the two men in the American canon. The Hemingway paradox is that he is now the more mannered and literary writer of the two and Anderson with his larger grasp of human nature and even with the cracker barrel effects, is an undated perennial. He colours in more of the picture and though the line isn’t delicate it has vigour and risk. Hemingway asks you to fill it in for yourself.
- Yeah, you fill it in.
- I don’t know if I can.
- Sure you can, you can fill it in O.K.
- I’m glad you think so.
The older man slipped off the stool, suddenly. The younger did not try to catch him. He’d seen this sort of thing before and he just hoped it wouldn’t happen to him. It was a thing that you did not wish to see and it was not very satisfactory.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Going to Ceylon

As with any other disease, treatment depends on removing the cause. Removing the cause of cowardice involves bringing out the irascible motives in a proper way - that is, by making a person sufficiently angry about his own state and weaknesses so that he will wish to change, using the poison itself as the starting remedy. Where there is a sickness therein lies its cure.

Certain masters have used the remedy of deliberately subjecting
themselves and their followers to situations where dangers were faced, or embarking on perilous journeys. They placed themselves in situations which brought about a natural confrontation with their own fears and cowardice - as a result, they set in motion a course of events that brought out their irascibility, of which courage is the ultimate virtue. Subjecting a person to these conditions in a properly guided manner can awaken and cause to grow in one that appropriate energy of anger, which is now used in a predetermined channel for a positive and balanced outcome.

from The Journey of the Self by Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri Pg. 137

When there was a fire in the caravan in which I was living, I wasn't there at the time fortunately, most of my books were utterly consumed, hardbacks amongst them. What was spared was badly damaged too, so much so that I got rid of them as too depressing to handle. One little A5 plastic covered notebook was preserved with just the slightest filagree of scorching: my journal of the journey from India to Ireland. As my last 13 rupees were stolen by a pickpocket in Allahabad that travelling was mostly by thumb.

It seemed to me then that my resolve after my conversion to make my way home as a pilgrim was going to be demanded of me whether I liked it or not. The meaning of a conversation that I had with my teacher or rather that Wendell had on my behalf, implied that I would make it after many adventures. Hanuman in the Ramayana had to go to Ceylon to rescue Sita.

I was in the darshan line with my letter asking permission to go in the normal way of Indian etiquette, which was not automatically given if the time was not auspicious. Baba came and stood before me and took the letter. I couldn't speak. Wendell took up the conversation:
- He's going home to Ireland Baba.
- Yes, yes he's going to Ceylon
- Not island Baba, Ireland.
- Yes, Ireland but first he's going to Ceylon.

At that Baba put his hands over mine which were joined in Namas pushing them down. I had an experience of a fragrance and the depression of the mental pause button. The following morning the pujari of the temple came over to me with some coconut prasad as a blessing.

Meditating under the pipal tree on the hill I had heard quite clearly in my head 'Take the reins', a reminder of the injunction of Krishna to Arjuna. I took it to mean that this abode of peace had to be left behind and it was time to engage with the world again.

I know where that journal is.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Wine of the Malakut

Henry Corbin writing about the Imaginal:
What is it like to enter into Nakoja-abad (the country of not-where). It is precisely the crossing of this limit, where the pilgrim no longer finds himself in the place, but is himself the place. To leave it (to pass beyond the Ninth Sphere) is to no longer be in the world, but to henceforth have the world in oneself, to be oneself the place where the world is. This is the imaginal space, the space where the active imagination freely manifests its visions and its epics.
(from: The Theme of the Voyage and the Messenger)

The great teachers, the sat gurus, can by their power bring the devotee into those places which are no place but a state of consciousness. I have written about this previously
grail cup
and intimated how that state might incorporate elements of forward time or things we were to come across in the ordinary way far into the future. This is the wine of the malakut (wine of the angelic world) which I only read about decades after the dairyman said to me they have theirs, this is for you*. The chalice that he gave me to drink from was a broad stately one and though I was nicely reared not the usual vessel that I supped from. There was an effect which surprised me as I tipped it; the breadth of it caused the milk to rush precipitously to the bourne of my nose. Chalices are for stately sipping. Some elements of physics must be maintained.

*from A Shiite Liturgy of the Grail by Henry Corbin:
We: You have nourished us through your knowledge of the Malakut, now give us to drink our fill of its brew.
Shakyh Abu/l-Khattab: The wine of the Malakut is for you; the wine of the gates of Hell (Balbut) is for others.