Friday, 29 January 2016

Anatman and Karma

The well known conflict in Buddhism between the anatman doctrine and personal karma has been the focus of a discussion recently.
buddhism and merciful lies

On a rational level the paradox remains intractable but perhaps it is the result of a false dichotomy. If the theory arises out of a mistaken view of the vedic atma then the opposition to that other vedic core doctrine of karma might fade away. What they suppose atma to signify is not what the Upanishads hold.

Atma is not the ego or a constitutive identity that is an element of the personality. It does not act and it does not change. As is said in the Brhad.Up. “It moves as it were, it shakes as it were”. It is a mistake to identify it with the ego and the Buddhist motto ‘form is emptiness, emptiness is form’ is near to the essential vedic view. Consciousness that pervades the body, mind, and intellect is superimposed on them and becomes identified with them. Karma arises and is maintained by this and therefore liberation cannot come about through identification with personal action. Maya being the core of experienced reality the contradictions that ensue ought not to surprise or affright.

The corresponding paradox for the vedantin is the position that enlightenment is not personal.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Cranford Pym Terroir

Soon after Miss Mary Hoggins married Mr Fitz-Adam, she disappeared from the neighbourhood for many years.  She did not move in a sphere in Cranford society sufficiently high to make any of us care to know what Mr Fitz-Adam was.  He died and was gathered to his fathers without our ever having thought about him at all.  And then Mrs Fitz-Adam reappeared in Cranford (“as bold as a lion,” Miss Pole said), a well-to-do widow, dressed in rustling black silk, so soon after her husband’s death that poor Miss Jenkyns was justified in the remark she made, that “bombazine would have shown a deeper sense of her loss.”

 However, Mrs Jamieson was kindly indulgent to Miss Barker’s want of knowledge of the customs of high life; and, to spare her feelings, ate three large pieces of seed-cake, with a placid, ruminating expression of countenance, not unlike a cow’s.

Very Barbara Pym I thought, the clothes signalling and the sharpness of observation. Mrs. Jamieson is a great snob and the other ladies are little snobs of the genteel order. Mulliner, Jamieson’s butler is a tyrannical servant, a British institution. Terroir, you know.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


I see neglected books decided to go on for another year of focussing on women writers only. And then on to the Red Haired Writers League. A useful site has become infected by the shuttlecock of misandry and misogyny floating over the net and a de rigueur potty mouth observation by Claire Vaye Watkins gives the honking seal of approval to something or other.

Let us embrace a do-it-yourself canon, wherein we each make our own canon filled with what we love to read, what speaks to us and challenges us and opens us up, wherein we can each determine our artistic lineages for ourselves, with curiosity and vigor, rather than trying to shoehorn ourselves into a canon ready made and gifted us by some white fucks at Oxford.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Love Letters

I came across this in an anthology of English Prose. It’s from Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I found it moving.

Perhaps this reminded her of the desirableness of looking over all the old family letters, and destroying such as ought not to be allowed to fall into the hands of strangers; for she had often spoken of the necessity of this task, but had always shrunk from it, with a timid dread of something painful.  To-night, however, she rose up after tea and went for them—in the dark; for she piqued herself on the precise neatness of all her chamber arrangements, and used to look uneasily at me when I lighted a bed-candle to go to another room for anything.  When she returned there was a faint, pleasant smell of Tonquin beans in the room.  I had always noticed this scent about any of the things which had belonged to her mother; and many of the letters were addressed to her—yellow bundles of love-letters, sixty or seventy years old.
Miss Matty undid the packet with a sigh; but she stifled it directly, as if it were hardly right to regret the flight of time, or of life either.  We agreed to look them over separately, each taking a different letter out of the same bundle and describing its contents to the other before destroying it.  I never knew what sad work the reading of old-letters was before that evening, though I could hardly tell why.  The letters were as happy as letters could be—at least those early letters were.  There was in them a vivid and intense sense of the present time, which seemed so strong and full, as if it could never pass away, and as if the warm, living hearts that so expressed themselves could never die, and be as nothing to the sunny earth.  I should have felt less melancholy, I believe, if the letters had been more so.  I saw the tears stealing down the well-worn furrows of Miss Matty’s cheeks, and her spectacles often wanted wiping.  I trusted at last that she would light the other candle, for my own eyes were rather dim, and I wanted more light to see the pale, faded ink; but no, even through her tears, she saw and remembered her little economical ways.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

New American Stories ed. Ben Marcus

But the writing is good. New American Stories edited by Ben Marcus is a fat volume. Marcus does himself justice with an introduction and a photo in the backfold over his several works unlike the David Marcus that we knew in Ireland who was self effacing. He wrote me a nice letter once which I still have and though it’s going at the folds... Where was I, yes, good stories with the best of bad news and outbreaks of Jewish humour, a low murmurous whine - don’t mind me, carry on with your interesting life. I haven’t read them all but sufficient unto the day to get the general picture. Write about what you know, an adage that is reflected in subjunct (adjunct with enhanced humiliation package) themes. As my rich brother says, ‘if you’re prepared to work for nothing you’ll never be idle’. Those writing courses are everywhere now and the good they do is to keep writers in gainful employment of a kind that has an ingrown toenail effect inhibiting the gait when they move out into the world. They are clever enough to avoid, ‘gender’, ‘race’, ‘weight’ except for

Rivka Gatchen ((The Lost Order who is clever enough to subvert those themes with the wan knowingness of a character whose marriage is dissolving, Her husband’s ring has fallen from his chill finger. She wanders about in a raincoat and xl tee shirt and is too confused to say ‘sorry, wrong number’ and wonders whether it was lemon chicken or garlic chicken that was ordered.

Charles Yu has a great futuristic story which most neuroscientists could regard as predictive. ((Standard Loneliness Package)). By virtue of a chip implanted in the brain individuals can take on for others the bad aspects of life such as bereavement, surgery, anguish, and impediments to happiness. Lightly and with surprising delicacy in a gadget ridden genre, Yu expands into dystopic anomie and all encompassing misery. A masterpiece.

Rebecca Curtis ((The Toast)) has a younger sister character who is a ‘subjunct’ a condition which is not improved by Lyme’s Disease and generalised fluoride and precipitates fear. It opens with an invitation to her older sister’s wedding. She has to refuse being broke buying expensive medication and exotic rescue remedies. The early family life is superbly evoked with the mother’s insistence on violently combing their hair as a type of malign nurturing. The older sister takes the role of mediator and healer and even when driven from the house continues to try from afar.

Mary Gaitskill ((The Arms and Legs of the Lake)) has a story about a damaged returnee from Iraq, flashbacks and all that but a little bitty and distracted by multiple viewpoints. You go long for that.

George Saunders, Don DeLillo, and Denis Johnson come out to play. Johnson and Saunders I must read more of.

Deb Olin Unferth ((Wait till you see me Dance)) features a remedial English subjunct who is generally too busy to care until she encounters a real talent that must pass a competence exam to be allowed to continue with his musical studies and avoid his fate as a conscript back home in some sandy hell, not specified but blessed by imperial war. Good clear writing with a measure of magic realism - she knows who is due to die soon and who might live a long life. Quite good and purged of cliche as are all stories by authors whose biographical notes indicate M.F.A. training.

There are 32 stories altogether. A very short one by Robert Coover ((Going for a Beer)) is a life that is as long as a thirst. A very good value volume of generally high quality.
Take it on the bus.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Calasso's Ardor

I offer you his last, final and concluding words - yes it has seemed interminable:

Killing, sacrifice, and rapture are bound together, both for god and man. And this makes them accomplices, it obliges people to celebrate long, exhausting soma rites. But it is also the only way of attaining a life that - for a while - is divine.

That song by the Moody Blues:

Timothy Leary's dead.
No, no, no, no, He's outside looking in.
Timothy Leary's dead.
No, no, no, no, He's outside looking in.
He'll fly his astral plane,
Takes you trips around the bay,
Brings you back the same day,
Timothy Leary. Timothy Leary.

And yet he should know better for on pg. 38 in his Yajnavalkya chapter he writes:
There is, even now, no complete edition of the Satapatha Brahmana, since it ought to include the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad as its final part.

That Upanisad is final in the Aristotlian sense of final as being what the whole propaduetic excercise of the sacrifice is aiming at. Ritual is karma or action and only creates more action. Knowledge alone is final though soma may bring  Beautiful! God! It's God! I see God! (Frank Zappa).

Coming from a noble lineage of philosophers Calasso adds to the burden of Lamark by never asking about first principles. What is sacrifice for, why do we do it; gets the perfunctory answer - out of gratitude. It’s like the banal ‘giving something back’ kind of. How does sacrifice work, ontologically speaking? My previous post on Dining in/on Kailas suggests the theme of virtue a not particularly original idea with neo-Platonic overtones which also has the suggestion of the doctrine of correspondences. Coconut oil is likely good for the hair and eyebright may be a nerve tonic. The explanation of ritual points of the brahman/invigilating priest assumes suchlike sympathies.

When the soma plant is brought in order to be crushed to yield its sacret juice it is told the reason why. Calasso states:

For a noble purpose, certainly, though a mysterious one, for “the supreme sovereignty of the metres”.

The metres have to be preserved impeccably along with their pronunciation for the mantras to be effective. If they are altered the sacrifice will fail. That is common knowledge and the devices used in the Vedic tradition are discussed in the Sage of Kanchi’s book, The Vedas. At its core is the Doctrine of Bijas. cf
and 28,000 entries in google. So it is not a mystery.

The mystery is how such a slight production could achieve such success. Partially it must be owing to the mismatch of the knowledge base of most literary reviewers with the topic. This is a nice way of saying ignorance. I’m not sure if I’m done with Calasso yet but I seem to far exceeded the attention span of a lot of views which according to Google Analytics is 0 seconds. More anon.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Dining in Kailas

OK so, how do you pass the ghee to Siva? Via Agni. By the fractionalising fire the rare virtue of the product of the cow is transmitted. In Ireland on May Day the securing of the milk of the cow ensures you its ‘good’ for the year. Thus it was that my uncle hearing a noise in the byre went to see and found his neighbour milking the cow to leave only the gross material aspect as depleted nourishment.

In the Agnihotra or Fire Ceremony participating in the sacrifice allows you to become for the moment divine by transmuting the person as well as the offering. The manual for the proper conducting of a sacrifice is called a Brahmana because the invigilating priest is known as the brahman. Everything must be done correctly or efficacy is lost. The celebrants attain a temporary apotheosis and prayer that comes from a humble attitude is not appropriate. The Satapatha Brahmana states:

Twofold, verily, is this, there is no third, viz. truth and untruth. And verily the gods are the truth, and man is the untruth. Therefore in saying (Va^. S. I, 5 b), 'I now enter from untruth into truth,' he passes from the men to the gods ^
5. Let him then only speak what is true; for this vow indeed the gods do keep, that they speak the truth ; and for this reason they are glorious : glorious therefore is he who, knowing this, speaks the truth.

After the completion (of the sacrifice) he divests himself (of the vow), with the text (Va^. S. II, 28 b): ' Now I am he who I really am.' For, in entering upon the vow, he becomes, as it were, non-human; and as it would not be becoming for him to say, ' I enter from truth into untruth ;' and as, in fact, he now again becomes man, let him therefore divest himself (of the vow), with the text: ' Now I am he who I really am.

The phrase ‘I enter from untruth into truth’ is the prayer from the Brhad.Up. known as the Pavamana mantra:

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Julius Eggeling and Priestcraft

Julius Eggeling in his introduction to Volume I and II of the Satapatha Brahmanas a work mined by Calasso in his lucubrations, writes:

The translator of the Satapatha-brahmanas can be under no illusion as to the reception his production is likely to meet with at the hand of the general reader. In the whole range of literature few works are probably less calculated to excite the interest of any outside the very limited number of specialists, than the ancient theological writings of the Hindus, known by the name of Brahmanas. For wearisome prolixity of exposition, characterised by dogmatic assertion and a flimsy symbolism rather than by serious reasoning, these works are perhaps not equalled anywhere; unless, indeed, it be by the speculative vapourings of the Gnostics, than which, in the opinion of the learned translators of Irenaeus, ' nothing more absurd has probably ever been imagined by rational beings .'

Clearly friend Eggeling is a Protestant of the Black school and the expression ‘blasphemous fable’ must have trembled on the tip of his tongue for the arc of sacrifice in the Judeo-Christian/Catholic tradition shows a similar subtilisation of the ‘suitable victim’. Further down he makes a sly allusion to the Roman Ponitifeccs and his power:

Even practical Rome did not entirely succeed in steering clear of the rock of priestly ascendancy attained by such-like means.

Ah yes priestcraft everywhere the same with their jibber jabber mumbo jumbo.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Robert Calasso's Ardor / interim report

Is Ardor by Roberto Calasso merely incondite or is it resolute mystagoguery. The book is a series of essays of varying lengths on esoteric topics such as yajna and tapas. In the normal way, like Alice, you start at the beginning and go on to the end and then stop. Fundamental concepts are unfolded on the basis of which more complex elaborations ensue. Calasso starts in the middle goes on to the beginning and then stops. This has the mien of elaborate befuddlement. The last essay which purports to be a codicil is entitled Antecedants and Consequents and this last should be first and as to where the first , Remote Beings, should be is a matter of conjecture. The advantage to the jumbling of the order of development is that the later simpler exegesis becomes masterly exposition.

After skipping to this ‘epilog’ I am working my way through the book abiding by its sequence. One third to go yet so I will delay an examination of particular omissions
and elision and yes 'overrated’ hangs as inconspicuous as a Graf Zeppelin. For the moment consider him tethered to the post and smudged.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Ardor by Roberto Calasso

After I had written my note on tapas, C. called over and told me about Ardor by Roberto Calasso. Ardor is Calasso’s translation of the word tapas staying close to the latin ‘ardor’ meaning ‘heat’, ‘brightness’. C. hadn’t read my post so it seemed like a finger post to a reading. Add to that a Xmas present of a 20€ book token issued by the shop where C. had bought his copy - ‘there’s one left’- and the sychronicity was complete. So I got it and I’m reading it. To balance Calasso I have got the true vedic lowdown from the Sage of Kanchi, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati aka Shankaracarya Jagath Guru. In his book The Vedas he writes:

We perform Yajnas to give more power to the Devas. The oblations we give constitute the food for Devas. Only things that we offer renouncing our right in them reach the Devas. Things consigned to the fire should unequivocally be offered to the Devas. That is why when offering an oblation we say “na mama” - “not for me”. The path that the food for Devas takes is through Agni. Similarly through Agni and Veda mantras we give offerings to the spirits of our departed ancestors.

More anon.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Groundless Ground

J.Edward Hackett in this post on phil percs
philosophy and religion
claims that philosophy is unique in that it questions its own ground. Neither science or religion does so. They have a basic ground of 'revelation'. Is this true in the case of all religion? Patently not so in the case of Vedanta if one takes the principle of 'neti, neti' as promulgated in the Upanisads. Not this, not this , means that no conceptual ground is ultimate. The tag 'Vasudeva sarvam idam' or Vasudeva (the father of Krishna) is all this, indicates that reality is self-grounded and therefore no ground at all.

The acceptance of a ground based on revelation is challenged to some extent by apophatic theology. In The Cloud of Unknowing nothing we can conceptualise is adequate to the reality of God. Buried in the aphorism of Eckhart :

The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.
is the inevitable reduction of God's vision of me to my own personal vision. The ground is always being cut away from under us. One might work in 'humus' and humility here but it's early in the day for such sport.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Patrick Olivelle doing tapas

Patrick Olivelle's early upanishads purports to be for the 'ordinary reader with little or no access to the original Sanskrit. Present. Still on page 326 he offers us :

He had this desire: "Let me multiply myself. Let me produce offspring." So he heated himself up. When he had heated himself up, he emitted this whole world, everything that is here. (Tai.Up.

This 'heating' no doubt refers to 'tapas'.
'Doing Tapas' is a synonym for yogic meditation possibly referring to the bodily heat that is felt by yogis during intense meditation. Lamas for their Finals have to dip in an icy pool and wrap a soaked blanket around them. Drying out the blanket by the use of 'tumo' or yogic heat is a pass. It also has reference to the heat produced by brooding to induce hatching of an egg. Brahman is in short doing meditation.

Swami Gambhirananda in his translation comes closer to something that the 'ordinary reader' as distinct from 'the intelligent general reader' could follow. (I want to thank above all my mother and father without whom I would not be here today). Swami translates this passage as:

He (the Self) wished, "Let me be many, let me be born. He undertook a deliberation. Having deliberated, he created all this that exists.

In Sankara's commentary he distinguishes between 'tapah' as knowledge and 'tapah' as austerity(tapas/meditation) "The idea is that the Self (Brahman) reflected on the plan etc. of the creation of the world."

Being literal can be amusing when it's not misleading. van Buitenen in his Gita translation has Krishna bid Arjuna 'stand up enemy-burner'. I think of Kurukshetra as a video game with death rays deployed from vimanas.