Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Who put the Enda in Referenda?

There was one mistake made about this same sex marriage referendum - its timing. If it was closer to Xmas, Santa could be voting Yes. Everyone else appears to be. Never in the history of referenda has there been such unanimity about an issue. Political parties, all media, the ex-President of Ireland, the post office with an equality stamp , twitter twits and facebook possies all are certain that it will be the making of us as a nation.

What’s in Santa’s bag? The Yes side are cross about the posters mentioning gay surrogacy with intentional parents being the real parents, and gay adoption with the loss of a father or a mother’s role. The Children and Family Relationships Bill was rushed through to present us with a fait accompli. But it’s not quite that unless the constitution is altered. As it stands the bill could be challenged as unconstitutional or changed in detail if unforeseen consequences emerged. The bill was whipped through but here’s the uncanny thing. Politicians love to be on the winning side and to claim to be progressive yet there is a ‘shyness’ about involving themselves in a campaign. Can it be that Enda put the enda in referenda? The Senate abolition was supposed to be a shoo-in until it failed. Down in the long grass of their constituencies voters who are doubtful of such major change lurk waiting to place their No and Nil on the ballot paper. TDs know this. The outcome may be closer than Dublin 4 imagines.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Microtoming the Obvious

It’s obvious that God as understood by all believers is an entity beyond reason. The human mind cannot comprehend that reality and even the bare concept of existence seems inadequate to an eternal being. Existence for us is a bounded fact, things rise and fall away and the boundless is like all other words, a mouthful of articulated air. It is only through the experience of mystics that the notion of the absolute as a ground of the relative becomes a troubling intimation that demands a response. When those ones who know, those sages, fall back into relative ordinary consciousness they express their experience in terms which are culturally conditioned. It is the western believer with the background of a belief in creation and an infused soul who can formulate rational grounds for the belief in God. Somehow there must be a reflection of his existence in the deep structure of that creation. Arguments from contingency and causality arise out of an implicit metaphysical matrix. Similarly arguments which seem egregiously circular to the westerner i.e. because there is karma, because it says in the scriptures, are not a serious rational theology but a sort of rumination, manana, on accepted truths.

Should you reply that some knave first devised the custom of offering sacrifices as means of obtaining heaven, and the rest of mankind were cajoled into following his example, this
is met by the words " nor can there be such a deception." For who could be so utterly different from the rest of mankind as for the mere sake of deceiving others to impose upon himself a round of actions which necessarily cause all sorts of trouble ? and hence we may safely infer that the universal practice of sacrifice is a proof that sacrifices do produce heaven as their result.
(from The Kusumanjali)

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Home-Thoughts, From Abroad by Robert Browning

Yesterday I went looking for a copy of Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book. I’m reading it on an e-reader which is ok but sometimes in the matter of poetry beauty requires a beautiful vehicle. I didn’t find it but I came home with a fine Bells and Pomegranates: Second Series 10 Euro as well as The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand, 3 Euro and The Letters of Elia for .50 c.

‘Home Thoughts’ you all read at school while you watched the columns of chalk dust motes rise in a tourbillon of furious apathy. Here it is again evoking a nostalgia for a country perhaps not your own but your very own.

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad

By Robert Browning

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!
    And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Yajnavalkya's 'injunction' to Maitreyi/ Brh.Up. IV.v.6

If you take everything to be true in the Vedas down to the last jot and tittle then you fall into trouble with expressions which seem to be injunctions. Texts like ‘the self should be seen etc’ are problematic

This being so, effective knowledge that the Absolute is one’s own true Self does not proceed from any form of command to act, since its subject-matter is reality in its true nature (knowledge of which is to be passively received). There is therefore no room for an injunction here. pg. 406 M.O.V.

In the Panchapadika Padmapada maintains that they are purely of a figurative nature. They are a form of eulogy somewhat like:
- This is a beautiful country.
- You should see it on a fine day.

I myself am reminded of the idiomatic usage of ‘should’ as in
- If you climb that hill and look to your left you should see old Squire Trelawney’s place.

There is no sense here of an injunction only the carrying out of certain actions. Maitreyi being told ‘It should be seen’, It should be heard about’ by Yajnavalkya has already achieved a profound state of dispassion. She is tired of the eternal round of transmigration. Now ‘at the top of the hill’ as it were, she should see the self.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Adhyasa/Superimposition as the key to Advaitic Critical Realism

“But availability for empirical experience depends on superimposition” (pg.419 numbered section 142: The Method of Vedanta by Sri S.S.S.)

Even though the Swami is talking about mutual superimposition of the Self and the non-self I think that a tangential truth is expressed about what Vedanta Paribhasa calls perceptuality. In other words, superimposition is the fact whereby the stone out there as an object comes in some sense to be in me, the subject.

Why do we not take the experience in here as a bounded subjective domain in the manner of Idealists (both subjective and objective) and Representationalists/Scientific Realists? Because for Vedantins the Vedas have an intrinsic ‘aboutness’. The language that they are expressed in is eternal, capturing, for all time, and in every eon, universals (vedic words). The action of the enjoined sacrifices is real and effective.

Starting from that foundation a metaphysics is promulgated which can sustain the non-numerical identity of object and mental modification (vritti). In his own way Aristotle squared that circle also.

What about illusion? Does that not break the upadhi link? It was a witty metaphysics that used as a founding analogy the fact of error. It is still the case though that our default assumption is of perception as veridical. Further experience may prove us wrong and we can accept this. We may even test our experience in an experimental fashion: Come let me clutch thee/I have thee not and yet I see thee still. Our realism is critical (krites/judge).

Friday, 17 April 2015

Some Thoughts on Adhyasa/Superimposition

A few thoughts on the notion of adhyasa or superimposition:

The view of Padmapada in his Panchapadika that adhyasa is creative is plainly wrong. Adhyasa is a completed operation on an existing reality and cannot first create that reality in order to operate on it. Incoherent and circular argumentation that has become accepted remains wrong. Being an analogy, adhyasa is capable of development and is not the final and fixed doctrine which the opponent in the preamble to the B.S.B. attempts to rebut. He says: What about the Self and the ego-sense which you say are mutually superimposed? Those two are not like your paradigm examples i.e. snake/rope, shell/silver because they are not two objects. It is a characteristic quibble of mine, fascinated by the interesting but irrelevant as I am, to hesitate when asked to accept that the notion of adhyasa also covers cases of formal error. The form of a wok is projected onto space i.e. the dome effect. Is Sankara, as the football pundits say ‘taking too much out of the ball’? If he had said ‘well that central paradigm of adhyasa is merely propaedeutic. What I am trying to do is introduce you to the ‘inner’ constellation of Self and ego-sense’.

Sankara metaphorically has passed the mike to me:
Think of the famous duck/rabbit. What is it, is it a duck or a rabbit or both? Answer: It is a mass of marks that perception organises. Think of the Self as a mass of consciousness which is constantly morphing. Infinite rabbits, infinite ducks.

I had a dream once in which I was walking along a beach to some event with a large crowd of people. Oh, hippies, I thought. We were then in a big tent in which there was a dais with a woman sitting on an armchair, a Mother. As I looked Her face constantly changed from young to old, to plain, to beautiful, myriad forms. Then we were outside chanting with a humming resonance - Engrossed is the bee of my mind :
Many Versions, this is one,

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Panchapadika of Padmapada - Sri S.S.S. Critique

And so what are you reading at the moment?

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, witty spookery and of course the long, very long The Method of Vedanta by Sri SSS. which is what Indians call him. At page 418 I’m not at the half way mark yet. It’s comprehensive and the print is small with three varieties of typeface, bold for his own position, light for scriptural gloss and light cursive for explanatory notes of the latter.

You’d want to be in the whole of your health for that.

The present chapter, only 84 pages long, is enlivened by controversy. It’s on Panchapadika, no diacretics on this computer and if there were I wouldn’t know what to do with them.

That’s by Padmapada the close disciple of Shankaracarya. How could that be controversial, if anyone had the knowledge it was surely someone who 'took the dust’ of Bhagavatpada.

Well no, Swami says that he has given a wrong turn to the interpretation of the Preamble to the B.S.B. with his focus on the technicalities of superimposition (adhyasa) and his assertion that it is the cause of creation. He is quite firm in this and his analysis is convincing. When I initially read the preamble without having read any 'authoritative’ commentaries on it I was amazed that advaitins could have become so fascinated by 'confusion’ which they persisted in calling delusion. Rote learning can be like post hypnotic suggestion in over-riding plain perception and an obvious reading.

These various views (of what confusion is) are mentioned, but none of them is criticised, (by Shankara) because the question of how superimposition arises, and the answers given to it, are of little interest. and not relevant to the topic under discussion. That topic is not an exposition of the causes of superimposition. The topic being expounded is: ‘In worldly experience there is a natural superimposition of Consciousness and the non-conscious’. pg.396

Isn’t adhyasa according to other schools an invention of Shankara himself without a Vedic basis?

Pass. I think that it is a teaching device to illustrate a metaphysical insight into the aporetic nature of perception and go from that to a generalisation about what he calls ‘worldly experience’ namely various forms of self-identity. The fact that he brings it in at the beginning of his major work is an indication that he considers it a central insight that requires exposition. To that end he uses the analogy of common confusion. cf:

Is that analogy a fixed element in his metaphysics?

Elsewhere he regards analogies as approximations which are of their nature surpassed when the truth is achieved. Adhyasa may be the last of those fingers pointing at the moon on the bough.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Tuning your ear for Sravana

Rambachan is right you know but it’s a very narrowly focused correctness. Epistemology, it has to be admitted, is a cup of cold tea for a lot of people. Fortunately, in religious discourse creative ambiguity is not far away and in his intense focus on sravana he does not notice the missing manhole cover. To prepare ourselves for jnana our hearing has to be tuned by various practices which create the spirit that is receptive. He speaks of predispositions and their cultivation.

The predispositions for brahmajijnasä have been classified by Shankara under four headings:
1. Viveka
2. Vairägya
3 Samadisadhanasampat
4. Mumukshutvam

Cavil as he might well do about the clear distinction between action based sadhana and the true source of knowledge this ascetic groundwork is covered by those he deprecates for their love of phenomena. Yet leelas and mahimas are to be expected to occur when the cosmos is being abrogated. Mind is in the process of being abolished as an ultimate and therefore the natural glue of causality that governs the time-space continuum loses its grip. This slippage is evinced by miracles, clairvoyance, bi-location and all the other traces of the passage of saints.

And so the creations and withdrawals of the universe down the ages are imagined, just as the distinctions of time and space are. When you have seen reality, you know that the creation, maintenance and withdrawal of the universe are impossible. (Brh.Up. Vartika/Sureshvara:II.i.411)
(page 382 Method of Vedanta by Sri SSS)

When this ‘worm-hole’ is approached anomalies and strange states of mind such as samadhi occur . When I read the Raja Yoga of Vivekananda it is his enthusiasm that communicates itself, there is no cool conceptual analysis so I am disinclined to take his writing as finished doctrine.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Professor Anantanand Rambachan on Sravana

Sravana I'd always thought was the hearing of a mahavakya for the first time and getting it to such an extent that enlightenment ensued. What else could make sense for if there were a time lag then the spontaneous generation of knowledge would not have occured. The natural question to ask was whether anyone had achieved this sort of immediate enlightenment. No one could tell me. I drew a sort of hand waving assertion that it was possible provided that the person were prepared enough. I took it to be a logical theoretical possibility if the status of sabda pramana were to be maintained.

I was prepared to leave it at that until I read Anantanand Rambachan's doctoral thesis on the common error amongst modern vedantins of placing the anubhava wrought by nidhidhyasana as central to enlightenment.
It is virtually assumed that without some sort of samadhi there can be no enlightenment. This is the confirming event of what was first told to the seeker in the form of the mahavakya. 'Hold it', says A.R. 'sabda pramana is freestanding and does not require confirmation by any other pramana'. No pramana requires another pramanas confirmation.

We nod and think we are for another spin on the carousel. However in the middle of the revolution there is a reversal of spin, a quantum change in which the dead cat comes to life and scratches the leg of a good chair. Yes, the mahavakya is heard as a web of words like wallpaper on the void. This is the initial and only pramana required but it must be dwelt on, manana, and contemplated, nidhidhyasana, for its full purport to be gleaned. The ultimate anubhava should there be one in that case feeds back to the initial pramana, indeed only pramana in this case, the sravana of sabda pramana. Now if you like, and this is my mystic gloss, because time is vanquished, trikalaabheda, in enlightenment we achieve simultaneity with the hearing of the mahavakya. Neat, eh.

Mahavakyas like “tat tvam asi” are carefully analysed to show that the identity imparted is at the level of Awareness alone. Sravana, therefore, incorporates the entire process of Vedantic instruction and encompasses all the traditional methods (e.g. adhyaropa-apavada, neti, neti) employed by the teacher in gradually unfolding brahman.
(from pg. 189ff. op.cit.)

Is A.R. in effect saying that there is no confirming experience for enlightenment and that experience as such could not confirm it. Sankara has written as much in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras. More anon.

Sunday, 5 April 2015


What Sureshvara and Sankara are in agreement about is the need for sustained meditation. This is stressed because there is a strain of gnosticism in neo-advaita. Like, you are already there man. Ramana Maharshi speaks of effortless effort which can evolve into the effortless sahaj samadhi, the everyday condition of the enlightened. At this point there are no special states that you dip into and out of for longer or shorter periods of time, there is just the steady diffusion of the divine which passes through the spiritual presence of the form of the master. If they know that nothing has really changed in them how is it I can’t make that claim? True for them ought to be true for me. My sense of why this doesn’t work is because it is a linguistic formula. Language requires metaphors to surpass altereity. They blend and merge and attempt unity in a form which is subjective. The words of a sage are not conversible. Call them pneumatic whistling.

"What we can't say we can't say, and we can't whistle it either."( Frank Ramsey)

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana II

One of the things that exercises Swami S.S.S. in his magisterial The Method of the Vedanta is the apparently paradoxical nature of the injunction to Maitreyi by Yajnavalkya in the Bhrhadaranyaka Upanishad:

The Self, my dear Maitryi, should be realised - should be heard of , reflected on, and meditated upon. By the realisation of the Self, my dear, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.
(Brh.Up. II.iv.5)

The Vedas being a pramana or valid means of knowledge it is vital that it be unequivocal. Apparent conflict with other vedic statements must therefore be reconciled and considerable ingenuity is applied to that end. It is generally wrought by bringing in the contrast between higher and lower teachings. The one is from the general secular perspective immersed in avidya and the other is from the perspective of the realised sage. In one sense to enjoin dwelling on the Self is like telling someone ‘for as long as you live, you should breathe’. For other people that there is a Self comes as news and can be the beginning of the way out of samsara. The essential attitude for Swami S.S.S. is:

For the Veda will be authoritative means of knowledge if it can awaken anyone to the truth of the sole reality of the one Self, a truth inaccessible to any other mean of knowledge.

That is the faithful background out of which the commentors work and it explains the very close analysis which is applied to Yajnavalkya’s injunction.

The highest truth in the words of Swami:

When the Vedic text says There is no other seer ...but He, it means that, from the standpoint of the highest truth, the Self is not an object that can be seen. Even from the standpoint of worldly experience, one subject is never the object of the vision of another subject.

That last slightly gnomic sentence I take to mean that we can never experience what the other is experiencing as the other. The experience of that other self is opaque to us by definition.

About the question whether one could attain realisation on simply hearing - that thou art -Swami remarks that:

Sureshvara in his Brh. Vartika does give the appearance of saying that no one could attain direct and immediate intuition of the Self merely from hearing

Sankara in his Brahma Sutra commentary takes a positive view of sravana (hearing) (B.S.B. IV.i.2) and in fact in Sureshvara’s Naishkarmya Siddhi he is of the same mind. How is this to be reconciled? It seems that in the first statement he is saying that the normal path to realisation is through the hearing of the vedas and their injunctions and then passing on to manana and nididhyasana. The other uncanny alternative is that of the almost perfected person who has faith in the apoureshya (not of human) nature of the Vedas and their truth and who hearing That Thou Art gets it in its full import. I suppose that the way out of that unlikely scenario is that although this individual may have heard it before, he never really heard it.

Again Swami S.S.S. gives no example of such a one so I assume that here is an ideal limit case.