Thursday, 30 August 2018

Yama: Deathday/Birthday

On the beam of dawn light moving down the passage of the tumulus at Newgrange the souls that lay sequestered might ride the path of the sun and be free. Is it accidental that Yama the god of death is the son of Surya the sun god? Through death you hope to go back to the source of life, ‘the force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ but there yet remains a doubt.

Katha Upanishad: I.i.20
This doubt that arises, consequent on the death of a man - some saying, “It exists”, and others saying, “It does not exist,” - I would know this, under your instruction. Of all the boons, this one is the third boon.

Yama is reluctant to give away the source of his power and by way of distraction instead offers babes and fancy vehicles:
Whatever things there be that are desirable but difficult to get - pray for all those cherished things according to your choice. Here are these women with chariots and musical instruments - such as are not to be had by mortals. With these, who are offered by me, you get yourself served. O Naciketa, do not inquire about death.

Naciketa declines:
O Death, ephemeral are these, and they waste away the vigour of all the senses that a man has. All life without exception, is short indeed. Let the vehicles be yours alone; let the dances and songs be yours.

I have always said this, yes. Honours have come unsought, and unsolicited crept to their due place. Complacently I review the tribute on this day, my birthday: a backpack, pyjama of some silken stuff of Heffneresque implication, a box of chocolates and later a trip to town to the bookshop. Is that all there there is? What about the coloured inks I mentioned and the typewriter ribbons? Have I lived so long to be thus frustrate?

Sorry, where was I?
Ka.Up. I.ii.2:
The preferable and the pleasurable approach mankind. The man of intelligence, having considered them, separated the two. The intelligent one selects the electable in preference to the delectable; the non-intelligent one selects the delectable for the sake of growth and protection (of the body etc.).

In the face of death there are difficult choices to be made. To a friend of very long standing who voted for abortion on demand in the referendum (Irish) I wrote: Are you a dupe or a dope? No card from him.

Later this day a card did arrive. No need to go into it. I'll just leave him the last word.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Katha Upanishad Triads

In the Katha Upanishad Naciketas’s father says a true thing which seems an irascible flash of irritation at his son’s correction of him. “Daddy”, says he, “ You’re giving away those more dead than alive cows as daana, where’s the merit in that. Who are you going to give me to?”

As any parent will be know ethical correction by an offspring rankles. That’s our job. Poppa replies - “I give you to death” which is perfectly true because by having children we put them in the queue for Yama’s (Death) place. Some thinkers, overthinkers really, have asserted that having the choice of not doing so, one of the benefits of science, we ought not to indulge our desire for progeny and the human world should gracefully die out.

Coming from David Benatar, a South Aftican, I am reminded of what his country’s immigration officer said to Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon when he enquired about emigration:

- But you’re black.

In the Afrikaans accent that sounded like ‘bleak’.

So Benatar, both bleak and black without a remedy for that sting.

Corinthians 15:55-56 King James Version (KJV)

55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

In the Katha Upanishad there is proposed as treatment multiple triads:

Ka.Up. I.17:
The three-fold Nachiketas, being united with the three doing, the three-fold Karma, crosses birth and death, knowing the adorable, the bright, the omniscient fire born of Brahman and realising him, attains thorough peace. (17)

Commentary by Shankara:— Again he praises Karma ; the three-fold Nachiketas, . i.e., he by whom the Nachiketa fire has been kindled thrice ; or, he who knows, studies and performs in, the Nachiketa fire. United with the three, i.e., who united with his mother, father and preceptor, i.e., having duly received instruction from them ; for, that such instruction is a source of authority, is inferred from other Srutis, such as 'he who has a mother ' and ' he who has a father,' etc. ;. or, the three may refer to ' direct perception,' inference' and 'agamas '; or to the vedas,' the Smritis' and ' good men '; for, knowledge of virtue from these sources is an obvious fact. Doing the threefold karma, i.e., performing sacrifices, reciting the vedas, and making gifts. Who so does these, crosses or travels beyond birth and death ; again Brahmajagnam : Brahmaja means born of Brahma, i.e., Hiranyagarbha ; he who is born of Brahma and is omniscient is Brahmajagnam. Devam, so called because shining, i.e having ; the qualities of knowledge, etc. Idyam, worthy of praise. Knowing such fire, from the Sastras and having realised him as his own atman one attains this absolute renunciation which is realized in his intellect. The meaning is that one attains the place of the virat, by the continued practice of Upasana and Karma.
(trans: Sitarama Sastri: Katha

Friday, 24 August 2018

Bilocation as 'no there there'.

I have been reading recently about bilocation chiefly from a mathematical point of view. It’s an interesting approach that carries within it the source of its own Bergsonian nullification. Treating time and motion as a series of point instants as though this were ultimate is the crux of the impossibility of motion paradox. That this treatment is extremely useful and a practical device does not make it ultimately true.

Here in this note I ask what evokes bilocation or what is its occasion. I am taking it to be a fact well attested in the annals of the saints and the sages and adepts of all traditions. Does it happen sportively as a frolic with perturbations of the continuum and run the hazard of paradoxoi for fun? My view is that it is chiefly the answer to the prayer of the devotee. A cry starts a sympathetic resonance in the mind of the saint who may go to the devotee in an apparent physical form even though that may be far away. How can this happen? To quote Gertrude Stein - ‘there’s no there there’. It is the sphere of the imaginal.

Henry Corbin writes:

What is it like to enter into Nakoja-abad (the country of not-where). It is precisely the crossing of this limit, where the pilgrim no longer finds himself in the place, but is himself the place. To leave it (to pass beyond the Ninth Sphere) is to no longer be in the world, but to henceforth have the world in oneself, to be oneself the place where the world is. This is the imaginal space, the space where the active imagination freely manifests its visions and its epics.

(from: The Theme of the Voyage and the Messenger)

This world has also affinities with the world of formation of Kabbalah. It is next door to the world of 'action', the normal empirical domain. Introducing a passage from the Talmudists Adam Steinsaltz's 'The Thirteen Petalled Rose' Harold Bloom (Omens of Millenium) remarks: “Steinsaltz charmingly emphasizes, as does Corbin in his account of the Sufi imaginal world, that our perception of angels can be quite as ordinary as if such messengers dwelt entirely in the world of action”:

(Steinsaltz) "Similarly, the angel who is sent to us from another world does not always have a significance or impact beyond the normal laws of physical nature. Indeed, it often happens that the angel precisely reveals itself in nature, in the ordinary common-sense world of causality, and only a prophetic insight or divination can show when, and to what extent, it is the work of higher forces. For man by his very nature is bound to the system of higher worlds, even though ordinarily this system is not revealed and known to him. As a result, this system of higher worlds seems to him to be natural, just as the whole of his two-sided existence, including both matter and spirit, seems self-evident to him. Man does not wonder at all about those passages he goes through all the time in the world of action, from the realm of material existence to the realm of spiritual existence. What is more, the rest of the other worlds that also penetrate our world may appear to us as part of something quite natural."

As an archetypal world it is presented to us with the forms and usages of our own tradition. Those mansions are many and various and are not in time and space though they may appear to be so to the devotee. The cosmic mind of the siddha knows consciousness as instantaneous and omnilocated but the devotee experiences that immediacy as a bustle of dramatic business.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Davy Crockett's (John Wayne's) Discourse on Dharma

I’ve had this garbled memory in my head for a long time. I added the stompin’ bit probably from another picture:
- I came down to Texas. I didn’t know what to do. I stomped on a lot of men and I’ve been stomped on too. I knew there was two things a man could do, the right thing and the wrong. Do the one and you’re living, do the other and you may be walking round but you’re deader than a beaver hat.

His true discourse is to be found in the trailer for The Alamo here:

There are some actions that you don’t survive but regeneration is possible. I understand and accept that there is a difference between natural and supernatural hope while holding that contact with our authentic self can occur spontaneously. By natural grace and in a dramatic way we can stand outside our immersion in the personal and see ourselves objectively. We are both experiencing and experienced in the same instant. That dissociative shock starts the remorse of conscience. And so we are reborn.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Cloudless May by Storm Jameson

When I wrote that Cloudless May is the story of the machinations, plots, and stratagems of various personages in Seuilly a fictitious town on the Loire I meant that the dramatis personae are all highly ranked citizens. As leaders in their community they might be expected to defend the honour of France in her hour of need. The time is May 1940 and the panzer divisions are about to move rapidly in their direction. The town is the location of the prefecture in the French system of local government. We are first introduced to a Colonel Rienne of the local garrison. As an old war hand, wounded in the First, he senses that this is perfect invasion weather:

It was the 5th of May 1940. Seuilly was crammed with troops ; these included a regiment of Colonials and two armoured regiments : and with munitions, these included the newest tanks. The war in the meantime was only active in Norway ; west of the Vosges and in the Saar patrols of both sides played a risky game of Red Indians. Yesterday Johann was killed, tonight it may be Jean. It was not war. Rienne, like many middle-aged soldiers, felt uneasy ; his instinct warned him that these hot cloudless days, perfect for war, were peaceful for some bad reason.

The prefect Emile Bergeot is his closest friend and the same age 48 fostered with Rienne’s family after Emile’s mother died in childbirth. He can call in to the prefecture at any time:

The Prefecture was a fifteenth-century chiteau, built by the second Due de Seuilly on the cliff looking down on the Loire. The steep road climbing to it from the town had stiH an odd dozen houses built in the same century, under the surrounding wall. Their heavy doors arid the worn ends of beams supported too much ; it was easy to imagine people dying in these rooms, as low and dark as vaults, and hard to believe that anyone could be born there and receive a first glimpse of light from these crushing and dilapidated walls. Halfway up this dark lane the carriage road to the Prefecture turned off, and climbed further to a wide courtyard with superb chestnuts.

On his way to the office of the Prefect he meets the Comtess de Freppel:

The Comtesse de Freppel had been Bergeot’s mistress for nearly four years ; she was not discreet, but she had not outraged opinion more than a little : sober and stiff-minded persons, with a touch of the hypocrisy inherited from Protestant ancestors turned Catholic in 1685 to avoid being expelled, could pretend to know nothing about it, while making good and sly use of her influence.

As the novel progresses we learn just how much she cashes out her influence. She is avaricious and fearful of falling back into poverty. From being a dancer in cheap dives she managed to snag the Comte de Freppel who believes that she is the daughter of a rich shopkeeper. He refuses to give her a divorce. Only her friend in the town who shared her adventures knows who she really is. This friend is a procuress whose son is a thief and a spy in the pay of the Italians.

Next we are introduced to M. de Thieviers a banker and an aircraft manufacturer. Five aircraft a month are being produced by his factory, shambolic really. The French it appears are hoping to fold gracefully unless of course Joan of Arc turns up. Morally speaking they are prepared to lose the war. Why destroy the town needlessly? The generals who figure in the novel hold this view, Petain is their man.

Thieviers is a patron of Bergeot supporting him financially: hospitality and good suits don’t come cheap. He wants Louis Mathieu fixed.

Thiviers had come to complain about the Journal and its editor. Mathieu had published an attack on him, so injurious that even a convinced liberal, a man to whom the suppression of newspapers was a lay blasphemy, could not rest under it.
“What do you want me to do ?” Bergeot said in a lively voice.

“Suppress the paper and arrest Mathieu. We are fighting for our lives, we can’t afford weakness.”

Nearly everybody is fighting for their lives using the very best method - don’t put oneself in any danger to begin with. The importance of influence, of getting everybody behind an ‘honourable’ settlement without unnecessary heroics is the ruling thought of the elite of the town. Some of them have links with the Nazis and admire the way they have rescued Germany. The intermingling of the personal and political is very well described along with the texture of everyday life, feasting, enjoying a glass of plain wine, and waiting for direction from ‘our masters’. Somnambulistic dithering and a slow march into shame pervades this cloudless May. An excellent novel. (find it on

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Santayana's marginalia on Dasgupta's A History of Indian Philosophy

(repost from 2013)
Substance is not more real than appearance, nor appearance more real than essence, but only differently real. When the word reality is used invidiously or eulogistically, it is merely in view of the special sort of reality which the speaker expects or desires to find in a particular instance. So when the starving gymnosophist takes a rope for a serpent, he misses the reality of that, which is lifeless matter......W hen substance is asserted, appearance is not denied ; its actuality is not diminished, but a significance is added to it which, as a bare datum, it could not have.
(from Scepticism and Animal Faith)

The gymnosophists/naked sages known in India as ‘avadoothas’ or sky-clothed are generally far from starving. I’ve seen two myself, one basking on a pavement in Bangalore and the other marching along a country road in Andra Pradesh. The only kit they carry is a water pot made from a gourd and a strong staff. At the Kumba Meelah when they take their bath in the ganges en masse, films of this auspicious event show them to range from well-fed to corpulent.

The classical confusion of snake for rope occurs at dusk. Error happens as the result of a defect in the conditions of perception, the default is veridicality. The advaitic view is similar to Santayana’s (qv above) and marginal notes in Dasgupta’s History of Indian Philosophy from Santayana’s library show that he appreciated its insights:

It is because we have an awareness of blueness that we speak of having perceived a blue object
How good all this is
Note on page 154 of History of Indian Philosophy (taken from George Santayana’s Marginalia: A Critical Selection Bk.I ed. John McCormick)

The idea of the illusion having its locus in the substratum of the rope broadly conforms to Santayana’s concept of substance and the illusion itself has its link to reality through its counterpositive or a real snake.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The Grain of Storm Jameson's Talent

It is said that you should write about what you know and that may be true if that’s all you know. For others writing about what they don’t know or what is outside their normal affiliations and interests can liberate their imaginative depths. Storm Jameson is freed from the constraints of her personal experience by moving to terra incognita. Company Parade mirrors her personal life and is marred by reticence, hesitation, and ellipses. It was supposed to be the first in a roman fleuve series and she wrote two more before giving up as it ‘went against the grain of my talent’. I hit the pause button on that novel but three others; Last Score, In the Second Year and Cloudless May were engrossing. None of those books have parallels in her own life and thus allow scope for imaginative penetration. There are those sudden shifts in awareness by which we become aware of her genius at work. I hold to the ancient idea that one has a genius and not that one is a genius. The first of the novels mentioned has a diplomat that adds to his mastery of rhetoric a branch accepted by Aristotle, torture. The second is the internal struggles of a English fascist family who are leaders of a successful coup. The third is a complex and quite long for her, story of various personages in a town on the Loire during May and June 1940. She published it in 1943 and Francophile though Jameson was it is clear that a massive dose of political cascara would be needed if ever Doctor Epuration made a country call. Which he did.

Cloudless May is over 500 pages long so evidently Jameson didn’t have the time to make it shorter. Leaving nothing out generates a nervous fervour. There is truth in the scenes that might be left out and this welds it all together. Things are after all going out of control and the hope that if the Nazis are long enough in France and eat enough black pate they may yet be humanised is a bleak irony. I will write more on this neglected classic.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

A Link to the Missing

Following through on a link... yes I know, I also read manuals; I came to ‘this page doesn’t seem to exist’. That set me off. Can a nonentity seem to do anything, particularly exist? Only, I think, if its existence is camouflaged so perfectly that it is not apparent. Its non-existence lies so perfectly, sublimely, congruent with reality. Its nonness is an onness as it were. The which it is. This you see is an example of the pramana (valid means of knowledge) known as anupalabadhi i.e. non-apprehension of existence. I expected to click to something, a background of purported existence was established which was flouted. I acquired a non-perceptual knowledge for it is clear that I cannot see what isn’t there. There is a Nyaya school which claims that this knowledge is an inference anuamana (pramana) from a non-perception but it seems to me that an inference even if Sherlockian fast is contrary to the immediacy of this knowledge.

Absence makes the mind to ponder.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018


If I lectured you on argumentum ad hominem you’d reply - ‘who are you to talk’?