Friday, 27 June 2014

What use is meditation?


What is meditation for? What use is it? Shankaracarya has stated that no particular state of mind is liberation. Samadhi therefore is not liberation. Only knowledge brings an end to ignorance, avidya changes to vidya and you cannot unknow what you now know. There is a paradox buried in there because though you are now enlightened your true state has never changed. You were and are always that. Tat tvam asi – That thou art.

Still meditation is enjoined as a beneficial practice. Its vendors would agree with that, relaxation is good business. To the spiritual seeker with aching ankles and lost communication with their posterior the opening question of how this discomfort relates to moksha is relevant. My sketch of how it might be, and I speak as one having no authority, follows along the lines suggested by the acarya's commentary on Brhadaranyaka Upanisad IV.iii.6, 7.

'When the sun and the moon have both set, the fire has gone out, and speech has stopped, Yajnavalkya, what exactly serves as the light for a man?' 'The self serves as his light. It is through the light of the self that he sits, goes out, works and returns.' 'It is just so, Yajnavalkya.'

This sutra completes the series of questions that eliminate the various sensory aids to awareness external and internal i.e. sun, moon, fire, speech. These adjuncts are useless without the awareness of the individual. When these are absent as in dream awareness persists. An important point is that awareness persists even when sleep is dreamless as we are conscious in a dark contentless way of having been in that state. There is no necessity for a contents of consciousness to be present for awareness to persist because we do know that we slept deeply and did not dream. If being contentless eliminated awareness there should only be a sudden waking without any knowledge of an intervening period in other words a move from consciousness to consciousness without a sense of an intervening period. In fact there would be no sense of having slept at all. Western students of philosophical psychology will wonder how this reductio was missed, the elephant and his mahout in the room so to say, yet it is central to the metaphysics of consciousness and identity for Shankara.

The light in question must then be different from that of the body. Now the class counter to this from the materialist is reminiscent of the causal closure thesis of Aristotle in De Anima.

Objection (by the materialist): No, for we see that only thing of the same class help each other. You are wrong to state as a proved fact that there is an inner light different from the sun etc. Why? Because we observe that the body and organs, which are material, are helped by such lights as the sun, which also are material and of the same class as the things helped.

The reply to that I give in full because it seems to hint at the notion of intentionality.

Reply: If this aggregate be the self that does the function of seeing etc., how is it that, remaining as it is it sometimes performs those functions and sometimes does not?

I take this to mean that you are only aware of something when your consciousness is directed towards it. Attention is selective and intermittent and not automatic because you are physically present. Shankaracarya also makes the point that in dream and remembrance we only have before our our minds elements experienced before. The body and the organs are there but only those events are salient that we have directed our consciousness towards while capable of doing so. This is an interesting observation.

Many of the practices of meditation become intelligible with this metaphysical background. To be continued:

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