Monday, 5 February 2018

Lineaments of Rigor

Amod Lele at his blog:
unconscious illusions

There’s some interesting ideas lurking under the confusion. It needs a little exfoliation to reveal the lineaments of rigor. How difficult the mystic’s aporiae is to express and yet how frequently it is encountered in the lives of the saints. They can embody truth and yet not know or feel it. An hard saying indeed for we who are blithe wayfarers in the foothills savoring our frissons of ananda.

Here is a significant passage from Lele:

The classical Buddhists did not do Kahneman’s experiments; they had not even seen the Müller-Lyer illusion. But they deeply understood the importance of unconscious thought. When you measure the Müller-Lyer lines, do you believe that they are of equal length? Yes, and no. At the level of your conscious attentive mind you can reason to a belief that the lines are equal; but you still see them as different. It is this “seeing as” that a great deal of Buddhist thought is concerned with. It are why the Buddhist path is not merely a matter of reasoning, but of other practices – including restrained conduct (sīla) as well as meditation. You must train your unconscious mind to deeply recognize what your conscious mind fleetingly affirms. The only reason Sāriputta and Moggallāna could get liberated on hearing the Dhamma Eye is that they had already been on a long path of monastic self-cultivation that prepared them to understand it properly.

“unconscious thought” - Oh my! If thought then not unconscious by definition. Can we understand by this notion a structure like the context which gives form to our experience. It is not conscious in the normal way but insight can reveal it. It is the net which captures the birds which have escaped from Plato’s aviary. in contrast to the clever butchery of Plato for the realized sage the joints are from an altogether other beast, a beast limned by negative space, that between the joints.

Bhagavad Gita XV 1-5, offers the magnificent image of a tree to symbolize this shift of attention:

They speak of the eternal Ashvattha, (Peepal) roots above,branches below, whose leaves are the Vedic hymns, who knows it knows the Veda.

Its branches extend below and above, nurtured by the constituents; its shoots are the objects of the senses, and its roots, extending below, connect with action in the human world.

Here its form cannot be perceived, neither its end, nor its beginning, nor its continuity. Having cut this so maturely rooted Ashvattha tree with the strong axe of non-attachment, you should then seek out that place from which once they have attained it, men never again return - ‘I take refuge with that primal person from whom original activity issued out.’


skholiast said...

"Unconscious" as a word has a strong whiff of the anachronisitc to it when applied to anything before the 19th c., and Sartre (for one) makes a vehement case that it was incoherent in the 20th c. too. But this critique cuts both ways. If we dismiss the idea of some kind of soto voce para-reasoning or para-perception, we may back straight into Bakker's blind brain eliminativism. Something along the lines of a Nietzschean fable: "with the unconsious thought, we have also abolished the conscious." It's a dicey process, thinking about "thinking." In any case, Lele's point about practices non-discursive is apt even if the proffered rationale is a little off.

The Gita's image of the tree may have hung behind Salinger's once-impossible-to-find-now-Googleable short story _The Inverted Forest_.

ombhurbhuva said...

Not only Sartre in modern times but Alisdair MacIntyre in his monograph on The Unconscious dismissed it as incoherent. In any case self-luminous cognition rules out anything which is not present to the impermanent mind which purely reflects what is before it. The idea of a classical Freudian structure that has the unconscious as a permanent lodger in the basement is alien to the philosophy of no-mind:
There never was a bodhi tree
Or bright mirror standing
Fundamentally not one thing exists
So where is the dust to cling