Thursday, 26 May 2016

Tapas (Concentration) in the Taittiriya Upanishad

The Upanishad teachers realise that all aspirants seeking the absolute truth begin with an initial set or orientation and have to focus on that, analyse it, discover its shortcomings and move to a new state. The heat that they bring to their analysis is called tapah (tapas) or concentration. This is what evokes insight. Bhrigu approached his father Varuna:

O, revered sir, teach me Brahman. To him he (Varuna) said: “Crave to know Brahman through concentration; concentration is Brahman. He practised concentration. He having practised concentration, he knew the vital force as Brahman.

Moving through all the koshas (cosas) Bhrigu does not become settled in any one of them, never just accepting that it’s all just matter etc. The progress is from the immediately evident to the subtle:

To him he (Varuna) said this: “Food, vital force, eye, ear, mind, speech - these are the aids to knowledge of Brahman.” To him he (Varuna) said: “Crave to know that from which all these being take birth, that by which they live after being born, that towards which they move and into which they merge. That is Brahman.” He (Bhrigu) practised concentration.

The guiding ontological intuition is that Brahman must be uncaused. That is how they express the difference between the contingent and the necessary. Bhrigu’s natural first stop is to see the vital force that is sustained by food or organic life as being the nature of reality. He comes to doubt this: Shankara remarks in his commentary:

Objection: What was, again, the occasion for his doubt?
The answer is: Because food is seen to have an origin.
Concentration is repeatedly inculcated in order to emphasise the fact of its being the best discipline. The idea is this: “Concentration alone is your discipline till the description of Brahman can be pushed no further and till your desire to know becomes quietened. Through concentration alone, you crave to know Brahman.” The rest is easy.

One thinks here of Bernard Lonergan’s Insight and his elevation of the unrestricted desire to know. Skholiast in his post
truth both ways
quotes Thomas Nagle:

In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. (p 130)
(from: The Last Word)

Nagle wants to settle in a nice neighbourhood away from mad mullahs, glittering eyed Swamis and Darwin deniers. His earnest hope indicates his doubt. He is perhaps in that leafy suburb that Bhrigu dwelt in for a while:

he knew knowledge as Brahman; for from knowledge, indeed, spring all these beings; having been born, they are sustained by knowledge; they move towards and merge in knowledge.

Yes we all have a plan, a goal. But is that it? Back he goes to his father Varuna.

(Varuna) said: “Crave to know Brahman through concentration; concentration is Brahman.” He (Bhrighu) practised concentration. He having practised concentration...........

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