Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Augustine, Advaita and Anti-Pelagianism


As Bergson has it we still go to the Greeks for instruction. We can discern in their religious history a progression from the Dionysian to the Orphic to the Pythagorean to the Platonic and culminating as a living force for Christianity in the Alexandrine mysticism of Plotinus. We steer a safe passage between autocthonism and parallomania by the pole star of natural human self transcendence. Those ‘spots of time’ that Wordsworth writes about are the inklings which generate a comprehensive vision.

I have been imagining Augustine under the sway of Advaitic thought but still arriving at a similar destination. My father claimed to have heard this dialogue at the checkout:

- Where did you go on your holidays?
- Spain
- Where in Spain?
- I don’t know, it was dark when we landed.

Advaitin wisdom would have fortified Augustine’s reaction to Pelagius. Do you need a teacher and is initiation, and the grace of a sat-guru required? Yes, yes and yes. The optimistic complacency of Pelagius arises from his own ascetic temperament. It is not scalable. When you generalise it, what emerges is like a philosophical rational nostrum or an enlightenment remedy which can be readily summarised as - ‘it’s nice to be nice’.

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Spots of Time:

There's a steroscopic aspect to realisation. What gives depth and fullness to experience is an an ability to immerse ourselves in it in a non-dual way. The object of experience is set against the subject of experience but at the same time what makes experiencing possible is the underlying ontological unity. The object can come to be in the subject. Clearly this non-dual realisation is a rare event in the lives of most of us but as Wordsworth has said in his 'spots of time' passage they are vital.


There are in our existence spots of time,
Which with distinct pre-eminence retain
A vivifying Virtue, whence, depress'd
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse, our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repair'd,
A virtue by which pleasure is enhanced
That penetrates, enables us to mount
When high, more high, and lift us up when fallen.
This efficacious spirit chiefly lurks
Among those passages of life in which
We have deepest feeling that the mind
Is lord and master, and that outward sense
Is but the obedient servant of her will.
Such moments worthy of all gratitude,
Are scattered everywhere, taking their date
From our first childhood: in our childhood even
Perhaps are most conspicuous.

(Bk.XI. ln.258 foll.)

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