Thursday, 27 February 2014

Peers and Profanum Vulgus

One feels that this ‘epistemic peer’ discussion could rumble on because it has that self-stoking element. There is also school yard resonance to the ‘I’m not talking to you cos’ you’re not my peer’ pose. The Two Ronnies sketch on class is relevant:
my place

It runs in both directions on the religion front. You will get the sniffy ones saying; ‘I can’t pay any attention to Dawkins, he’s much too ignorant’, which overlooks the fact that he may be right for reasons that those he should be looking up to do not find very interesting. He may be wrong for those pathetic simplisms also and if he is why not condescend. Sam Harris may only deal with the commoners religious faith in his rebuttals but if it makes them raise their game that is a good thing. That may not entail their finding reasons for their faith that Harris regards as reasons but challenge can deepen commitment.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Epistemic Peers and Commoners

Siris drew my attention
peer group
to a dialogue between Gary Gutting and Louise Antony on the Stone the N.Y. Times philosophy corner.
His attention was drawn to the remarks on epistemic peers which are interesting as was his previous post on the subject. The topic of diversity of religions came up also and the usual cliché of its casting doubt on them all. By coincidence last week I appended the following to a post:

By the bye it occurred to me today that while the variety of religious creeds is for the atheist an indication that none of them are right, the variety of philosophical systems which are counter to each other does not likewise imply the uselessness of philosophising.

By another happenstance there were a few pageviews today of a post from last year on the topic of ishta devata

ishta devata

Antony’s observations on the contraception mandate seemed to this epistemic commoner shallow.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Linga Sarira / Subtle Body

The Linga Sarira or Subtle Body guarantees the continuance of identity of karma. Shankara explains:
B.S.B. III.i.1: the soul remaining still surrounded by the subtle elements, occur such thoughts about the future body as are called up by the accumulated results of past actions; and this expectancy becomes lengthened out to the next body like a leech. This being the manner of acquiring a fresh body, as shown by the Upanishads all other theories arising from the human intellect, such for instance as (the Sankhya theory) that when the all-pervasive senses and soul acquire a new body as a result of past actions, they start functioning there itself; or (the Buddhist theory) that the soul alone, by itself, acquires its function there, while the senses, just as much as the body, are born afresh in those different spheres of experience; or (the Vaisesika view) that the mind alone proceeds to the new place of experience; or (the Jaina view) that the soul alone jumps from one body to another like a parrot from one tree to another – all these are to be ignored as running counter to the Vedic view.

What your concept of personal identity is in this life will condition the view of your post-mortem identity. If you believe in the continuance of the karmic adventures of the Jiva or individual person after the 'great change' as James Carlyle, Thomas's father called it, then there must be continuity. The jiva in Vedanta is a body/mind entity so the subtle body must form a bridgehead to the next life. The material support for life is so to speak subtilised and this carries through the karma to its next venue.

Shankara indicates in a curtailed form how the different concepts of identity in this life, Sankhya, Jain, Vaisesika and Buddhist are reflected in the accounts of transition to the next. All show a definite metaphysical consistency and differ from each other.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Absorption, Pralaya, Deep Sleep and Samadhi

Reflections on Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya II.i.9:
When we speak of material cause and effect in the classical examples of clay and vessels or gold and chains, rings etc made of gold we need to distinguish between the different senses of cause and effect that are used in sentences such as - The fungus on your bathroom wall is caused by condensation or smoking cause lung cancer and so forth. In the one you have matter taking different forms but viewed simply as matter it remains unchanged. There is no question of their being a reversal of effect back into cause, matter will always have a certain form even it is not conventionally recognised as such. Effects in the other cases such as condensation causing fungus remain as an advancement of a situation, there is a temporal aspect which is irreversible.

There is an analogical connection between the different examples of cause and effect but none of them in my view is the central paradigmatic case. Vedanta seems to make material cause/effect the paradigmatic one particularly in relation to cosmological speculation. However a hedging locution is employed when cause and effect are said to be non-different. They are claiming ground between the ‘same’ or ‘identical’ and ‘different’ or ‘separate’.

You could say that this is a monist view to be contrasted with the setting in motion of a Cosmos by a creative act. But when you consider the Doctrine of Divine Conservation the intimate connection between pure being and contingent being swings back towards non-difference.

Shankaracarya in his commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad proposes the idea that form is true in name only (i.e. this is a cup, pot etc), the reality is the clay itself which is unchanging. Here in the B.S.B. he offers the distinction between creation and creator as a mere appearance due to superimposition/adhyasa:

The way that the objection has to be met there (during continuance/creation) by holding that the cause is not affected by the product and its characteristics, these being superimposed on the cause by nescience, is equally to be followed in the case of dissolution as well.

How Nescience/Avidya (personal) or Maya (cosmic) ignorance arises is an interesting question that divides advaitins. In the right hand corner Tula Avidya and in the left hand corner Mula Avidya. That is a topic for another post.

In this commentary on B.S.B. II.i.9 Shankaracarya is more interested in the concept of absorption when the cosmos is reabsorbed into absolute pure being in the mode of pralaya. For the reasons given he holds that there is no difference in it. Resorption itself would be an impossibility if the effect should persist in the cause together with its peculiarities.

That brings him to consider personal experiences of absorption. We drop from the personal state of dreaming into deep sleep and our personal consciousness becomes impersonal and undifferentiated. The yogi in meditation can have a conscious experience of this absorption. What Shankaracarya has to say about this runs counter to the goal of yogic practice.

As in natural slumber and samadhi (absortion in divine consciousness), though there is a natural eradication of differences, still owing to the persistence of the unreal nescience, differences occur over again when one wakes up, similarly it can also happen here.

If samadhi is not realisation, what is? Only knowledge can eradicate ignorance. We must somehow come to know that we always are what we are and spinach doesn't help.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Reminiscences by Thomas Carlyle

You do not expect to be moved by Thomas Carlyle in the direction of the milder deliquescent emotions, no it is gum baring scorn and the heavenward eye at meliorism from the bien pensant element that is the usual reaction. His Reminiscences which caused contemporary shock by their intimacy round out our view of the man. I think that the last time I read such a moving tribute to a father was in the words of Saint Silouan of Athos which is not to hand at the moment. (from The Undistorted Image by Elder Sophrony). Even when as a young man he was going astray the remonstrance from his father was of the mildest. Strong silent unwavering love that leaves the son to come to his senses in his own time is what Carlyle also received. He writes:

He wrote to me duly and affectionately while I was at college. Nothing that was good for me did he fail with his best ability to provide. His simple, true counsel and fatherly admonitions have now first attained their fit sacredness of meaning. Pity for me if they be thrown away.
His tolerance for me, his trust in me, was great. When I declined going forward into the Church (though his heart was set upon it), he respected my scruples, my volition, and patiently let me have my way. In after years, when I had peremptorily ceased from being a schoolmaster, though he inwardly disapproved of the step as imprudent, and saw me in successive summers lingering beside him in sickliness of body and mind, without outlook towards any good, he had the forbearance to say at worst nothing, never once to whisper discontent with me.
If my dear mother, with the trustfulness of a mother's heart, ministered to all my woes, outward and inward, and even against hope kept prophesying good, he, with whom I communicated far less, who could not approve my schemes, did nothing that was not kind and fatherly. His roof was my shelter, which a word from him (in those sour days of wounded vanity) would have deprived me of. He patiently let me have my way, helping when he could, when he could not help never hindering. When hope again dawned for me, how hearty was his joy, yet how silent. I have been a happy son.

I have been reading the Oxford World Classics edition with its copious notes and amplified text. Froude’s compilation is available at Internet Archive in a fairly clean scan.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Common or Garden Tropes

This inalienable individuality of each essence renders it a universal; for being perfectly self-contained and real only by virtue of its intrinsic character, it contains no reference to any setting in space or time, and stands in no adventitious relations to anything. Therefore without forfeiting its absolute identity it may be repeated or reviewed any number of times. Such embodiments or views of it, like the copies of a book or the acts of reading of it, will be facts or events in nature ( which is a net of external relations ) ; but the copies would not be copies of the same book, nor the readings readings of it, unless ( and in so far as ) the same essence reappeared in them all. Physical obstacles to exact repetitions or reproductions do not affect the essential universality of every essence, even if by chance it occurs only once, or never occurs at all; because in virtue of its perfect identity and individuality, it cannot fall out of the catalogue of essences, where it fills its particular place. If I try to delete it, I reinstate it, since in deleting that I have recognised it and defined it anew, bearing witness to its possessing the whole being which can claim as an essence. There accordingly it stands, waiting to be embodied or noticed, if nature or attention ever choose to halt at that point or traverse it. Every essence in its own realm is just as central, just as normal, and just as complete as any other: it is therefore alway just as open to exemplification or to thought, without the addition or subtraction of one iota of its being.
(from The Realm of Essence Section II: The Being Proper to Essences By George Santayana pub.1927)
There accordingly it stands, waiting to be embodied or noticed, if nature or attention ever choose to halt at that point or traverse it. This I understand as the delineation of the notion of trope (tropein - to turn). As we scan the flux the universal pops out. The thought that it can be deleted or deletion might be attempted seems to indicate that it is out there in the flux but that needn't be the case if 'extracting' universals is a power or a capacity that evokes. To alter Plato's aviary that 'bird' does not exist independently in the cage to be whistled up. Looking makes it and calls it up. That this 'bird' is a common or garden one,
- metaphor don't fail me now - is due to our animal nature and evolutionary heritage. This is the famous animal faith.

That is my initial bead on 'the bird' and is probably wrong. By the bye it occurred to me today that while the variety of religious creeds is for the atheist an indication that none of them are right, the variety of philosophical systems which are counter to each other does not likewise imply the uselessness of philosophising.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Consul at Sunset by Gerald Hanley

If you were looking for the opposite number in the real world of the mythical colony of Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee then The Consul at Sunset (pub.1951) by Gerald Hanley (1916 - 1992) is it. It’s not a Roman world but the light is fading on an Empire, a British one, and its representatives civil and military are losing the certainty of purpose that sustained men in the vile climate of duty when map pink was nigh continuous. In this case the smooth running of a country is complicated by its temporary status. There’s a war on and the country is Ethiopia. The Italians having been defeated, a British command with a similar structure to other colonies is in place but now the District Commisioner is called a Political Officer.

The novel opens with an exceptionally well wrought character called Colonel Casey putting Captain Sole in the picture. Sole is about to go up country to replace Captain Milton as P.O. Captain Turnbull is the military man in charge of the lately Italian fort. Unlike the mad Madhi of that region who is frequently mentioned the Italians are not regarded as Kipling wrote as first rate fighting men. (a poor benighted 'eathen but a first-rate fighting man) Turnbull promoted from the non-commissioned ranks has simply taken over the job of keeping the Omar Bilash and the Yonis Barra tribes from their feuding over water holes, camel raiding and the settling of scores. Turnbull is a real warrior, D.C.M. at Dunkirk and all that but not a gentleman and it takes a gentleman to deal with savages. The truth in that is of course the ancient one of birth rank and blood which is primal. Throughout the book there is the irony of the parallel interpretation of the actions of the opposed forces. Servants are the carriers of the tales to the chiefs and they are rewarded for it. Mischief is brewing over the rights to water holes. The lesser and weaker tribe who gave up their guns to the British have uncustomary access to the water and even though there is plenty for all this usurpation of the natural order is galling. The Omar Bilash kept their guns and are planning raids. Captain Milton is under the sway of a Yonis Barra woman and does not see the danger and the need for more troops.

Hanley served as a Capt. in the King’s Own Rifles in Somaliland and he knows the country well:

A hot wind sprang up every evening at El Ashang. Dusk there was the desert dusk of greys dying into blues and fierce, bronze scarves of fire. And there was a curious silence at that time as though all men, women and children were quiet and listening to the wind, which softened and then quickened into sand-laden blasts; or as though to the dusk which seemed to hold mystery and lonliness. The hot wind came in from the desert, blowing the dried dust of camel dung and sand into the air, until long ridges of limestone appeared through the shale like the bones of the earth. When the moon came up these bones showed themselves white and grey against the reddish sand. The wind died quickly and the darkness rushed in, hiding the huddles of several hundred skin and splinter huts, and the low stone buildings of the merchants, the wooden coffee houses and the crumbling mosque.

Things come to a head and character is tested in the debacle. I found that quite convincing. In the considerable literature of Empire his work stands out and it is remarkable that he seems to have slipped into obscurity. The Year of the Lion (1953) set in Kenya was admired by Hemingway. Yes, come back Hanley, the Empire is over and all is forgiven. As an Irishman by descent and self-election he was agin it of course.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Descartes' Meditation led by Santayana

" I think, therefore I am," if taken as an inference is sound because analytical, only repeating in the conclusion, for the sake of emphasis, something assumed in the premise. If taken as an attestation of fact, as I suppose it was meant, it is honest and richly indicative, all its terms being heavy with empirical connotations. What is " thinking," what is "I," what is " therefore," and what is " existence " ? If there were no existence there would certainly be no persons and no thinking, and it may be doubted (as I have indicated above) that anything exists at all. That any being exists that may be called "I," so that I am not a mere essence, is a thousand times more doubtful, and is often denied by the keenest wits. The persuasion that in saying "I am " I have reached an indubitable fact, can only excite a smile in the genuine sceptic. No fact is self-evident ; and what sort of fact is this " I," and in what sense do I " exist" ?

further below:
 and this inner life of the body, I suspect, was the rock of vulgar belief which Descartes found at hand, easy to mount on, after his not very serious shipwreck. And the rock was well chosen ; not because the existence of my inner man is a simpler or a surer fact than any other ; to a true sceptic this alleged being so busily thinking and willing and fuming within my body is but a strange feature in the fantastic world that appears for the moment. Yet the choice of the inner man as the one certain existence was a happy one, because this sense of life within me is more constant than other perceptions, and not wholly to be shaken off except in profound contemplation or in some strange forms or madness. 

The last chapter of Scepticism and Animal Faith is a close analysis of the idealism of Descartes and Hume. It also indicates why Santayana was attracted to Indian philosophy. The method of questioning called Atma Vichara or the probing into the roots of the self by the inquiry who am I was presented by the modern sage Ramana Maharshi (d.1950).Who Am I
Now there is a double bind in this process in that there can be no answer to the question. However that self definition is the context of what Freud took to be the purpose of life namely the creation of a strong central ego. Maya, Sigmund, Maya.

The first extract above is about the process of questioning, the second indicates the goal or at least its partial attainment. The sense of life within me as bare awareness is channelled through a chakra. We in a sense allow ourselves because we are incarnated to fall through that level of awareness. This is generally the Ajna or Hridaya chakra. As Santayana says beyond that is profound formless contemplation.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Alice James: A Biography by Jean Strouse

The edition I read was the 2011 reprint of the one first published in 1980. There is a three page preface by Colm Tóibín which seems an addition that is rather slight for its inclusion in the box of the N.Y.R.B. title on the cover. Following a practice which now seems antique but which I welcome is footnoting and not the usual endnoting. One tends to read them and they do add to the main body of the text like voices in another room counselling a larger discretion. Jean Strouse has excavated the land of the James Nation thoroughly. William James said of his brother Henry that he was 'a native of the James family, and has no other country' and the lifetime perigrinations of the family made their homeland into luggage or indeed baggage in the terms of the cliche ‘a lot of baggage’. The grim Calvinist Cavanman who ate his dinner out of a drawer William James established the family fortune. Because he did not approve of his children who did not keep to the true way he made an onerous will that was successfully challenged and Henry snr. came out with an income from property of $10,000 per annum and never worked a day in his life at a job. If the will had stuck none of his 5 children would have gotten a penny until they were 21. One can scarcely imagine the James clan landlocked. Henry Jnr. might have taken to ‘chaw’. Instead you have the exotic hothousing of all of them moving around Europe picking up languages and above all developing that intense family relationship which can be both a stifling and a resource.

For all their gifts Alice and the James Boys were a neurotic bunch. Where would they leave it? Old Father William, doommeister, then Son Henry an alcoholic who lost his leg in a drunken accident was afflicted in 1844 by a ‘vastation’. This was the Swedenborgian interpretation of a debilitating crisis in which he was oppressed by the fetid rays of a presence in his dining room after a good dinner. Henry Jnr. suffered a similar breakdown in his later years hoping that death might take him in his sleep. Brother William was also a ‘sick soul’ with suicidal ideation as a constant presence in his twenties. Wilky and Bob the less famous brothers one of whom was an alcoholic and the other a pursuer of the dream of fortune with schemes which failed. Both of them had fought in the Civil War and experienced the general restlessness of that generation. Then there is the subject of this book, Alice, who drained the Dismal Swamp of the family and throughout her life from adolescence was crippled by mysterious maladies that resisted the palpations and auscultations of quacks and knighted medics. The range of treatments that she underwent is a review of all that was available to the wealthy neuraesthenic of the 19th. Century. Strouse’s detail is excellent. In a curious way her book escapes the woman question interpretation that she promotes. It is clear that this is an under-determining factor, being a member of the James Nation is a sufficient explanation. They all had bad backs and stomachs, she simply moved it to the next notch of paralysis. Brother Henry (Harry) whom she was closest to was very kind and looked after her in her decline. There was also the resource of the Diary which she kept before her death in 1892 at the age of 44. The creative ebulliance which was the other hallmark of the James family if it had been expressed from an earlier point might have been sanitive. I haven’t read the diary but the extracts in the biography show the sharpness of her observation in a prose that is direct and vigorous.

This is a splendid biography and an essential primer in Famille James.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Santayana on Hume

The last chapter of Scepticism and Animal Faith by Santayana is a relief after the previous three which seemed for me to hover on the brink of making sense. This chapter is entitled Comparison with Other Criticisms of Knowledge and is an examination of the wrong turn into literary psychology taken by Descartes and Hume. It is called literary because it replicates the standard approach of an author who has privileged access to the mind of his characters. As an aside the 'show rather than tell' as a writer's maxim only follows the ontic. Maybe Dickens and Wittgenstein were right: 'the human body is the best picture of the human soul'. (Body includes all its motions)

Professor Edward Feser exhumes Hume as he forgot to write himself - he is fond of the eponymous pun.
Feser on Hume

From Scepticism and Animal Faith:

Hume seems to have, assumed that every perception perceived itself. He assumed further that these perceptions lay in time and formed certain sequences. Why a given perception belonged to one sequence rather than to another, and why all simultaneous perceptions were not in the same mind, he never considered ; the questions were unanswerable, so long as he ignored or denied the existence of bodies. He asserted also that these perceptions were repeated, and that the repetitions were always fainter than the originals—two groundless assertions, unless the transitive force of memory is admitted, and impressions are distinguished from ideas externally, by calling an intuition an impression when caused by a present object, visible to a third person, and calling it an idea when not so caused. Furthermore, he invoked an alleged habit of perceptions always to follow one another in the same order—something flatly contrary to fact ; but the notion was made plausible by confusion with the habits of the physical world, where similar events recur when the conditions are similar. In tuitions no doubt follow the same routine ; but the conditions for an intuition are not the previous intuitions, but the whole present state of the psyche and of the environment, something of which the previous intuitions were at best prophetic symptoms, symptoms often falsified by the event.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Shaftesbury on the Good

He is reckoned to be a fine writer says Thomas Gray of Shaftesbury. To me that suggests a demurral and reading in his 'Characteristics' does not incline me to a contrary opinion. Moreover he does not gain a place in the authoritative collection of English Prose selected by William Peacock for the O.U.P. English Prose. Neither is he in the Everyman Anthology edited by S.L. Edwards. Fame has a momentum like a top or a celt that before it dies takes a contrary wobble. That may yet happen. I personally find a slackness in his style, a certain diffuseness which flattens his conclusions.

'Tis not the same with Goodness as with other Qualitys, which we may understand very well, and yet not possess. We may have an excellent ear in Musick, without being able to perform in any kind. We may judg well of Poetry, without being Poets, or possessing the least of a Poetick Vein: But we can have no tolerable Notion of Goodness, without being tolerably good.
(from Section V. Bk.1)

There is a languid understating quality about that 'tolerable' which erodes his intent which I take to be the Aristotelian maxim that the good man is the best judge of what the good is. An example of what Gray referred to as 'seeming always to mean more than he said' perhaps.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Homophobia in the Irish Times

I am not a homophobe. I am not oppressed by an irrational fear of encountering homosexuals but I do dissent from the bleating chorus of bien-pensant lattetudinarians who infest the Irish Times at the moment. I have a browser (Epiphany) which allows me to easily read it without ads and comments in the curtailed on-line version - no java, no popups, no plugins. Fintan O’Toole who could bore for Europe has lately been indulging himself in the cheapest from of rhetorical 'far be it from me’ litotes in relation to John Waters a fellow correspondent at the Times who accepted €40,000 in settlement of a defamation claim from RTE when a transvestite interviewee referred to him as a ‘homophobe’.

Fintan O'Toole
Waters would have accepted €15,000 paid to a charity and an apology but RTE got cheap and wanted to pay only €5,000. ‘You are not taking this seriously’ said John and on legal advice cancelled the offer. There is a lonely corner of the Times canteen that is forever Waters’.

O’Toole who lost a few pin feathers in a plagiarism scandal some years ago is still a Leonard L. Milberg visiting lecturer in Irish Studies at Princeton. His lack of support for BDS boycott of Israel has not affected this role. You must never allow your convenience to be compromised by principle. The South African boycott which he supported was totally different. Of course it was.

As well as Waters, Breda O’Brien also a correspondent for the Times was labelled a homophobe by Panti Bliss. She gave her response on Saturday:

Breda O'Brien
Could the civil partnerships of homosexuals be brought to the same level of rights and obligations as those of hetrosexuals? If it weren’t for the adoption and commissioning of children that this would bring with it most people would be in favour. There is also the resistance to the idea that a vote for ‘marriage equality’ is a tacit recognition that there really is no difference between the unions. Is it O.K. to be different or not?

There is going to be a referendum on this next year. From a tactical point of view this ‘homophobe’ hysteria is a mistake as the electorate doesn’t like being bullied. One has to await the wording of the amendment of course.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Cloud of Unknowing

I’m starting to read The Cloud of Unknowing which I have looked into before but don’t recall ever reading through and yet it’s familiar because it follows the apophatic line which is the bright rubric of all wisdom teachings. Leaving the justification of that assertion aside, perhaps for ever, the good version to read for the purposes of edification becomes an issue. I have two printed versions in the house, the Evelyn Underhill and one that calls itself a ‘new paraphrase’ by Halcyon Backhouse. Out on the net I’ve seen the original Middle English from Rochester University, just the text with a minimum of critical apparatus and another modern English version from a Robert Benson put out by the Paraclete Press. The latter seems to me to depart from the intent and the language of the original into dubious paraphrases which run counter to the general intent of the ‘Cloud’. Underhill’s version seems somewhat Jacobethan and fake. The original I can make out if I imagine a crowd of Brummies shouting in a tin tea hut in a heavy shower of rain. So I’m left for meditational use or undistracting clarity the Halcyon Backhouse, sowise yclept I wot for the pur stryn of Romaunce. It calls itself a paraphrase but it stays close to the shore of the original and if I read anything that jars I can refer to Anon and Underhill.

If you ever come to this cloud to live and work in it, this is what you must do: just as the ‘cloud of unknowing’ is above you, between you and God, so you must put a ‘cloud of forgetting’ below you, between you and all creation. Perhaps you think you will be far away from God, with this cloud between you, but surely it follows that you are further away than ever if there is no cloud of forgetting between you and ‘all creatures’? By ‘all creatures ‘ I mean not only the creatures themselves but everything connected with them, including physical and spiritual beings, irrespective of their state or of how good or evil they are. Everything, without exception, must be removed, hidden under the cloud of forgetting.
(From Chap. V: Hidden under the Cloud of Forgetting)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Thomas Gray on Shaftesbury (1671 - 1713)

You say you cannot conceive how Lord Shaftesbury came to be a philosopher in vogue: I will tell you; first, he was a lord; secondly, he was as vain as any of his readers; thirdly, men are very prone to believe what they do not understand; fourthly, they will believe anything at all, provided they are under no obligation to believe it; fifthly, they love to take a new road, even when the road leads nowhere; sixthly, he was reckoned a fine writer, and seemed always to mean more than he said. Would you have any more reasons? An interval of above forty years has pretty well destroyed the charm. A dead lord ranks but with commoners; vanity is no longer interested in the matter; for the new road is become an old one. The mode of free-thinking is like that of ruffs and farthingales and has given place to the mode of not thinking at all; once it was reckoned graceful, half to discover and half conceal the mind, but now we have been long accustomed to see it quite naked : primness and affectation of style, like the good-breeding of queen Anne's court, has turned to hoydening and rude familiarity.

Letter (Camb. Aug.18th.1758) of Mr. Thomas Gray to Mr. Stonehewer

Monday, 3 February 2014


It is significant how many of the great jnanis or followers of the path of rational inquiry have also been devotees of forms of divinity and the teachers in their lineage. Was it a formal irony that one who had realised the impersonal, nirguna, formless absolute should adopt such worship? The answer that this was done to encourage the bhaktas or devotees is I think a mistaken view. I look rather to that primal experience which Schleiermacher has termed piety, a kind of heart felt immediacy of life before it is fragmented into concepts. That lugubrious philosophical undifferentiated aesthetic continuum sulks before:

My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold'

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

This is the face or primary register you put on your work. Woodworkers will recognize that metaphor from the preparing of a board or stick. First a face, true out of wynd, then width/edge then thickness. The face that you put on your work as you emerge from your absorption will, to mix the metaphor, be that of your chosen form of divinity. It will suffuse like a full spectrum 4 quadrants rainbow. Thank you Ken.