~ Padamalai, Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi Recorded by Muruganar
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
~ Padamalai, Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi Recorded by Muruganar
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The Glory looked like my own self.
I saw it in all of me,
And saw me all in all of it,
That we were two in distinction,
And yet again one in one likeness.
- Gnostic, The Hymn of the Pearl
where Self-realisation is attained.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
"Be wherever you like, do whatever you choose, remember this well that all that you do is known to Me. I am the Inner Ruler of all and seated in their hearts. I envelope all creatures. I am the Controller - the wire-puller of the show of this Universe. I am the Mother - origin of all beings - the harmony of the three gunas (attributes), the propeller of all senses, the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer. Nothing will harm who turns his attention towards Me,
but Maya (Illusion) will lash him who forgets Me. All the insects, ants, the visible, movable and immovable world is My body or form."
"You need not go far, or anywhere in search of Me. Barring your name and form, there exists in you, as well as in all beings, a sense of Being or Consciousness of Existence. That is Myself. Knowing this, you see Me inside yourself as well as in all beings. If you practise this, you will realize all pervasiveness and thus attain oneness with Me."
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
In every atom are a hundred blazing suns,
If you cleave the heart of one drop of water,
A hundred pure oceans emerge from it."
- Mahmud Shabistari
In this poem of Shabistari we see that the world is a mirror of the Universal Self. There is nowhere It can look without seeing Itself. It also recalls Kabir's saying about the the drop (the individual self) falling into the ocean (Supreme Self) - the ocean also falls into the drop. Thus ego annihilation/Self-realisation is not just an experience of loss, but of immense fullness.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
It is one without the the quality of oneness
It is many without the attribute of multiplicity
By Itself the Self seeks Itself
By Itself the Self realises Itself
By Itself the Self adores Itself
There is no other
and there is no existence for any other than the Self.
There is no existence save Its existence.
Self and world are one and the same
Revile not the world
for you are the world.
Your actions are not your actions,
they are the actions of the world.
Your thoughts are not your thoughts
they are the thoughts of the world.
Your self is not your self
but the Self of the World
Withersoever thou turnest
thou seest the face of thyself.
Nothing that seems to perish perishes,
for all things appear only in the face of the
You are unborn and deathless,
You gave birth to birth itself,
and you are the death of death itself
Know thyself and thou knowest God.
Inspired by a reading of Ibn al-Arabi
Thursday, November 22, 2007
"[Iris] Murdoch's ethical vision was based upon a concept which she, after Simone Weil, called attention. Attention, Murdoch proposed, is an especially vigilant kind of looking. When we exercise a care of attention towards a person, we note their gestures, their tones of voice, their facial expressions, their turns of phrase and thought. In this way, by interpreting these signs, we proceed an important distance towards understanding the hopes, wishes and needs of that person. This attention, Murdoch noted, is the most basic and indispensable form of moral work. It is effortful, but its rewards are immense. For this attention, she memorably wrote, 'teaches us how real things can be looked at and loved without being seized and used, without being appropriated into the greedy organism of the self'. Murdoch's ideal of attention, of a compelling particularity of vision, obtains to landscapes as well as to people. It is harder to dispose of anything, or to act selfishly towards it, once one has paid attention to its details. This is an environmentalist's truth, as well as a humanist's."- Robert Macfarlane
In Indian philosophy this capacity is called Chitta, and is considered one of the three most important aspects of the supreme Self: Sat (truth) Chit (attention, awareness) and Anand (joy). Chitta is intrinsic to Selfhood.
One of the negatives of consumerist society is that the attention is continually being dragged away from the Self, towards objects of consumption. Western society prides itself in being a theatre for self-actualisation, but in many respects it is becoming increasingly destructive to the pure attention without which Self-realisation is impossible.
Imagine a man who has fallen into an underground granary with no ladder to get back out. He sees that there is still some grain scattered about on the floor of the granary. If he gathers this grain together and puts it into sacks, he finds he can pile up the sacks and use them to climb out. Attention is like this - concentrated, it is a means of ascent; scattered, it is useless.
Attention deficiency disorder affects adults as well as children. We could be heading for a world in which most kids have some degree of ADHD and never grow out of it.
"Saccidānanda or Sat-cit-ānanda (Sanskrit: सच्चिदानंद) is a compound of three Sanskrit words, Sat (सत्), Cit (चित्), and Ānanda (आनंद) (the ā is of longer vocal length), meaning True Being, Pure Consciousness and Bliss respectively. The expression is used in Yoga and other schools of Indian philosophy to describe the nature of Brahman as experienced by a fully liberated yogin. Orthography may differ depending on whether the word is treated in its compound form and therefore subject to sandhi: saccidānanda, or split into its elements: sat-cit-ananda, sac chid ananda, etc. The compound always sounds like: Sach-chid-ānanda, regardless of spelling. Saccidānanda may be understood as the energetic state and 'stuff' of non-duality, a manifestation of our spiritually natural, primordial and authentic state (sahaj or compare nirmanakaya) which is comparable in quality to that of deity."
The great music educator Nadia Boulanger said of her mother: "There was one thing she could not tolerate: lack of attention." "From the first I grew up with this absolute attentiveness, which is vital to self-awareness. People often seem to lack it now, yet it's essentially a form of character."
"It seems to me that attention is the state of mind which allows us to perceive what has to be. It is a form of the vision experienced by the great mystics, on days when they were granted a profound concentration... I believe that everything depends on attention. I only see you if I pay attention. I only exist if I pay attention to myself."
- Conversations with Nadia Boulanger, by Bruno Monsaingeon.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
-Shri Ramana Maharshi
Thursday, November 15, 2007
A dystopian vision - a future Los Angeles reflected in an eye.
In the opening scene, LA of 2019 is seen reflected in a human (or replicant) eye. Chew, the maker of artificial eyes, hopes the rogue androids will leave him alone when he insists that he knows nothing about how to get them into the Tyrell corporation - "I only do eyes". Recognising that Roy Batty is a Nexus Six replicant, Chew tells him that he has made his eyes. Roy responds, "If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes", while Leon intimidates the poor man by festooning him with spare part eyes. Roy appeals to Cartesian optics in his claim to selfhood. "From the Cartesian perspective, what I see is my property; I own it in the sense that I experience it personally in the privileged realm of the interiority of the subject. Lacan will invert the Cartesian triangle and in doing so show how the subject is dependent upon the outside for his/her sense of self."
"Rachel wants to discuss the possibility of being a replicant since Tyrell refuses to see her. She shows Deckard a photo and says, 'Look it's me with my mother.' Deckard explains the memory implants from Tyrell's niece. Photo-sight-memory-subjectivity all work into Rachel's claim to being human and having a 'person' or self. This self includes a privileged interior - memories that no one else has access to."
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
-Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
"the hall was suddenly abolished, its walls rendered invisible, and the new space was radiant with the appearance of a summoned being, the tender presence of the great mother, protectress of the island and its secret ways. The swirling energies of this being were everywhere, making the spaces alive with something akin to the electrification of the spirit, and a mighty collective hum of praise now seemed to have lifted off into the air, and the city seemed in flight. Such a splendid weightlessness pervaded everything, and all those in the great hall seemed to be afloat on a silver cloud, spiralling into the sublimity of the great mother. It wasn't long before he felt that something about him had changed forever in that celestial mood."
-Ben Okri, Astonishing the Gods
Ben Okri won the Booker prize for The Famished Road.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Para vivir no quiero islas, palacios, torres. !Que alegría más alta: vivir en los pronombres! Quítate ya los trajes las señas, los retratos; yo no te quiero así, disfrazada de otra, hija siempre de algo. Te quiero pura, libre, irreductible: tú. Sé que cuando te llame entre todas las gentes del mundo sólo tú serás tú Y cuando me preguntes quién es el que te llama, el que te quiere suya, enterraré los nombres, los rótulos, la historia. Iré rompiendo todo lo que encima me echaron desde antes de nacer. Y vuelto ya al anónimo eterno del desnudo, de la piedra, del mundo, te diré: 'yo te quiero, soy yo.' "
The word "Ehyeh" is used a total of 43 places in the Old Testament, where it is usually translated as "I will be" or "I shall be," as is the case for its final occurrence in Zechariah 8:8. It stems from the Hebrew conception of monotheism that God exists within each and everyone and by Himself, the uncreated Creator who does not depend on anything or anyone; therefore "I am who I am".
Theologians have many different explanations for the meaning behind this phrase. Many theologians explain that "I am that I am" is better translated to "I be that I be". The ancient Hebrew language does not have a past, present, or future tense. Instead, it has an imperfective aspect and perfective aspect as indicators of time, with no actual determined time.
Perfective aspect is something that is completed, or will be definitely completed. Imperfective is something that has not been completed, might be completed or might be completed in the future (there is no definite).
"Ehyeh" is in the imperfective aspect, and can be understood as God saying that He is "in the process of being", a reference saying that He exists in all times, constantly, eternally.
According to traditional Christian interpretation, the New Testament testifies that Jesus Christ declared He is the great “I Am” (the Self) of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible).
The revelation of the ineffable name "I AM WHO AM" contains then the truth that God (the Self) alone IS. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures understood the divine name in this sense: God is the fullness of Being and of every perfection, without origin and without end. All creatures receive all that they are and have from Him; but He alone is His very being, and He is of himself everything that He is.
In Advaita Vedanta, the "I am" is an abstraction in the mind of the Stateless State, of the Absolute, or the Supreme Reality, called Parabrahman. It is pure awareness, prior to thoughts, free from perceptions, associations, memories.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
Electric Sheep by Sakura Graphics
Egolessness does not mean becoming a sheep, or an android - an apparently autonomous organism that is really no more than a lifeless circuit in a vast machine.
Self-realisation gives a person initiative, drive, originality, intelligence, leadership qualities, an assertiveness which achieves results without dominating 'others', indomitability, freedom (all the qualities associated with being a strong individual)
These are all qualities of the single Self, which express themselves after Self-realisation.
Ego is not the source of strong individuals, it is pathological, and ultimately weakening.
It is not the free expression of Selfhood, rather it is a symptom of possessiveness.
Non-possessiveness is not incompatible with being a strong individual, in fact it is the prerequisite for being a strong individual.
Friday, October 12, 2007
From the Chants of Hildegard von Bingen:
Spiritus Sanctus vivificans vita,
movens omnia, et radix est in omni creatura,
ac omnia de immunditia abluit,
tergens crimina, ac ungit vulnera,
et sic est fulgens ac laudabilis vita,
suscitans et resuscitans omnia.
Holy Spirit, bestowing life unto life,
moving in All.
You are the root of all creatures,
washing away all impurity,
scouring guilt, and anointing wounds.
Thus you are luminous and praiseworthy,
Life, awakening, and re-awakening all that is.
According to yoga knowledge, the Kundalini is the Root of the Tree of Life (the Subtle System of Chakras)
In Sahaja yoga the Kundalini is experienced as a cool breeze - the Divine Breath (Ruach):
"I am the breeze that nourishes all things green,
I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits.
I am the rain coming from the dew
that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life."
- Hildegard Von Bingen, medieval abbess, mystic and upbraider of popes, quoting the Holy Spirit
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Ludwig Wittgenstein, at an early age, already caught up by deep philosophical problems.
Wittgenstein's anti-Cartesianism is evident in the Blue Book "where he writes, first, that our language creates the illusion that the word 'I' refers to 'something bodiless, which, however, has its seat in our body," and then concludes: 'In fact this seems to be the real ego, the one of which it was said, "Cogito, ergo sum".'
he returns to the theme once again in the Philosophical Investigations where he writes: " 'I' is not the name of a person, nor 'here' of a place, and 'this' is not a name. But they are connected with names.
Names are explained by means of them. It is also true that it is characteristic of physics not to use these words." (P.I.,410)
In the Tractatus he states that "there is no such thing as the soul" (TLP5.5422)
He uses the words 'soul' and 'subject' interchangeably, so what he was really getting at was that the subject (self) does not exist as an object. He considered the self, the 'I', to be a mystery inaccessible to thought, which is based on language.
"language disguises thought. So much so, that from the outward form of the clothing it is impossible to infer the form of the thought beneath it."
It became apparent to Wittgenstein that the subject cannot be conceived of in Cartesian terms as both simple and representing (ie. thinking, believing, judging, etc.) These two characteristics, which the classical modern tradition from Descartes to Leibniz to Russel has taken to be compatible, are, in fact, not so. And with this observation he cuts through the Gordian knot of the modern conception of the subject. The idea that a simple self could also be a representing self is indeed absurd.
Wittgenstein rejects the idea of a composite subject: "a composite soul would no longer be a soul."
CAPRICORN - Earth - Chakra = Left Mooladhara and Left/Back Agyna,
Presiding Deity = Shri Ganesha,
Archetype = (The Child), Quality = overcoming obstacles
AQUARIUS - Air - The Kundalini, the Divine Breath, The Cool Breeze of the Holy Spirit.
Note: the Kundalini is not a chakra, but the source of the energy that nourishes them.
PISCES - Water - Void
(The Ocean of Illusion, and the Wise old man or woman/Guru that takes one across it)
ARIES - Fire - Right Mooladhara and Right/Front Agnya, Shri Kartikeya
(The Warrior) destroying negativity.
Note Shri Kartikeya is a warrior child, and the sign Aries fits that description better than any other.
TAURUS - Earth- Left Swadisthana?
GEMINI - Air - Right Swadisthana, Shri Hanumana, Mercury
CANCER - Water - Left Nabhi -Left heart
(The Housewife), motherliness, food
LEO - Fire - Right Heart, Shri Rama,
(The Solar Hero)
Note: the right nabhi chakra is associated with royal dignity, so perhaps it is also ruled by Leo.
VIRGO - Earth - Left Visshuddhi, Shri Vishnumaya
LIBRA - Air - Right Visshuddhi?
Note: the quality of the right visshuddhi is diplomacy. In Astrology Libra is associated with that.
SCORPIO - Water - Left Sahasrara, Brahmarandhra, rebirth/death of ego
SAGITTARIUS - Fire - Right Sahasrara, Shri Kalki (Horse-headed deity)
Note: in the Indian calendar the year starts with the sign Capricorn,
and it is an alternative to Aries as the first sign of the zodiac.
Each of the seven chakras has a left and a right aspect.
The left aspects are of the Yin elements (earth and water) while the right side is Yang (fire and air).
There is a strong link between the Mooladhara and Agnya chakras.
HH Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi has mentioned the correspondence between several of the signs and chakras,
and I have based the above on these insights.
To my knowledge Shri Mataji hasn't physically drawn a chart like this but has referred to the signs and their chakra in different talks. I merely did the chart as a summary of that
and tried to fill in the gaps in a speculative but logical manner.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
I saw at last its meaning and its place;
Not the blind passion of the brooding past,
But Mother - the World's Mother - come at last,
To love as she had never loved before
-To feed and guard and teach the human race."
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)
American writer, artist and social reformer.
Monday, October 01, 2007
we know intellectually that the ego-self
yet we still feel troubled by a sense
These fears and desires trouble us,
and we try to rid ourselves of this
illusory sense of ownership,
but rather than trying to wish it away mentally,
one should ask the question:
Through inquiry into the source of this illusion
it disappears by itself, just as a weed is destroyed
- Paraphrase of Advaita Vedanta philosophy.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Commodification of the self. These arguments are closely tied to a final, technology-induced shift in cultural understanding. Because the technologies of sociation enable information to be disseminated widely at low cost, popular entertainment has become a major industry. Critical to the entertainment industry are individual performers -individuals who, because they are entertaining, command a broad audience and vast remuneration. In effect, the "self" becomes available as a saleable commodity. Individual performers may take on new names, spouses, and lifestyles in order to increase their fame and income. As the entertainment industry expands, and as television channels become more numerous, the demand for "characters" becomes ever wider. Increasingly, the common person - owing to a peculiar passion, unique story, act of heroism or stupidity, or possession of inside information - becomes a potential candidate for fame and fortune. Consequently, there is a growing consciousness of the self as a commodity. Being true to one's self, possessing depth of character, and searching for one's identity all become old-fashioned phrases; they are nicely suited to earlier times but no longer profitable.
Each of these tendencies--toward polyvocality, plasticity, de-authentication and commodification of self--undermines the long-standing importance placed on the integral self, that core to which one's actions should be true. Although this erosion is lamentable in significant respects, it is also important to take note of growing criticism of the Western, traditional concept of individual selves.
On the conceptual level, the problem is not simply that the conception of a private mind carries with it all the thorny problems of epistemological dualism (subject vs. object, mind vs. body, minds knowing other minds), but also that the very idea of an independent decisionmaker proves uncompelling. How, it is asked, could mental deliberation take place except within the categories supplied by the culture? If we were to subtract the entire vocabulary of the culture from individual subjectivity, how could the individual form questions about justice, duty, rights, or moral good? In Michael Sandel's terms, "to imagine a person incapable of constitutive attachments ... is not to conceive an ideally free and rational agent, but to imagine a person wholly without character, without moral depth."
These conceptual problems are conjoined with a widespread ideological critique. Alexis de Tocqueville's observations of nineteenth-century U.S. life set the stage: "Individualism is a calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows ... he gladly leaves the greater society to look after himself." In recent decades these views have been echoed and amplified by many scholars. Christopher Lasch has traced the close association between individualist presumptions and cultural tendencies toward "me-first" narcissism; R. N. Bellah and his colleagues argue that modern individualism works against the possibility of committed relationships and dedication to community; for Edward Sampson, the presumption of a self-contained individual leads to social division and insensitivity to minority voices.
Ultimately, the concept of an interior origin of action defines the society in terms of unbreachable isolation. If what is most central to our existence is hidden from others, and vice versa, we are forever left with a sense of profound isolation, an inability to ever know what lies behind another's mask. With strong belief in an interior self, we inevitably create the Other to whom we shall forever remain alien.
-Kenneth J. Gergen
Saturday, September 22, 2007
-Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Extrinsic religiosity - religion and collective worship are seen as primarily social activities, often undertaken for personal gain.
A specialist in cultural evolution, Peter Richardson, and a human ecologist, Brian Paciotti, both from the University of California, used games to test groups of people for altruistic qualities such as generosity, trust and fairness. They found that there was a difference between secular and religious people. Religious people did give more; however, the team found that "only people with intrinsic or questing religiosity were more generous and trusting, and less likely to punish unfairly. Extrinsically religious people were actually less altruistic than the non-religious."
Friday, August 31, 2007
With the intellect firmly held.
His mind having been established in the Self,
He should not think of anything.
Whenever the unsteady mind,
Moving to and fro, wanders away,
He should restrain it
And control it in the Self."
Bhagavad Gita 6.25–26. From Winthrop Sargeant, tr., The Bhagavad Gita (State University of New York Press: New York, 1994) 296–97.
- Make me one with the universe.
"Take the common hallucinogenic experience of losing our separate self, or becoming one with the universe. This may seem, to some, like mystical hogwash, but in fact it fits far better with a scientific understanding of the world than our normal dualist view. Most of us feel, most of the time, that we are some kind of separate self who inhabits our body like a driver in a car or a pilot in a plane.
Driverless truck in the movie Duel.
Throughout history many people have believed in a soul or a spirit. Yet science has long known that this cannot be so. There is just a brain that is made of the same stuff as the the world around it. We really are one with the universe.
This means that the psychedelic sense of self may actually be truer than the dualistic view. So although our normal state is better for surviving and reproducing, it may not always be best for understanding who and what we are..."
- Helen Phillips & Graham Lawton, New Scientist November 2004.
Self-inquiry reveals that there is a self, but it is not particulate or separate from world stuff. Some would call that a 'spirit' or 'soul' but these words suggest something different from the world - dualistic thinking.
Hallucinogenics may suspend the ego self temporarily and so give a sense of being one with the universe;
however, they shift awareness into the superego, a state as far from reality as the ego.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007
from the idea of owning life,
of experiencing it as a possession."
"The mode of being exists
only in the here and now...
the mode of having exists only in time:
past, present and future.
In the having mode we are bound
to what we have amassed in the past:
money, land, fame, social status,
knowledge, children, memories."
Fromm was a German-Jewish-American social psychologist whose brand of socialism rejected both Western capitalism and Soviet communism, which he saw as dehumanizing and bureaucratic social structures that resulted in a virtually universal modern phenomenon of alienation. He became one of the founders of socialist humanism, promoting the early writings of Karl Marx
[the having mode also drags awareness
into the not-yet-existing future
in which we aspire to have these things.
By dwelling in the not-yet-existent
we become ourselves non-existent.
We defer the being we could enjoy
in the here and now.]
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
"God is indeed a Person, but if we say He is only personal, we are in danger of implying that He is no more than we conceive Him to be, of imprisoning Him on our human level of understanding, of denying that He opens out 'behind', onto the Infinite. But of course we do the same thing in our habitual ways of seeing other people, and ourselves; we treat others as if they were no more than our ideas of them, and ourselves as if we were limited to our own shifting self-images. We forget that all persons are, precisely, personal faces of the Transpersonal Absolute: if, like God, we were not also more than persons, we would not be persons at all."- Charles Upton, Parabola, Summer 2008
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Friday, August 17, 2007
Zoroaster, detail, The School of Athens by Raphael
The qualities of the Chakras according to Sahaja Yoga are:
1)Mooladhara (Base) Chakra - earth, innocence, wisdom
2)Swadisthana (Pelvic) Chakra - fire, creativity
3)Nabhi (Navel) Chakra - water, sustenance, balance, prosperity
4)Anahata (Heart) Chakra - air, love, security.
5)Visshuddhi (Throat) Chakra, - ether/sky, communication
6)Agnya (Brow) Chakra - light, forgiveness, mind.
7)Sahasrara (Crown) Chakra - integration, union.
The Zoroastrian Amesha Spentas are:
1)Ameretat ("not dying") Rules over Plants. Personification of immortality.
2)Asha vahishta ("excellent order") Fire element. Personification of the 'best truth' and protector of the physical and moral order on earth.
3)Haurvatat ("wholeness"). Water element. Personification of perfection. She brings prosperity and health.
4)Aramaiti ("devotion") Earth element. Personification of holy devotion.
5)Khshathra vairya ("desirable dominion") sky/metal. A warrior.
6)Vohu Manah ("good mind") Personification of wisdom.
7)Ahura Mazda The Supreme Self
"In the context of the Zoroastrian view of creation, the group of the Amesha Spenta is extended to include Ahura Mazda, together with (or represented by) Spenta Mainyu. However, in most scholastic texts, an unqualified referral to the "Amesha Spenta" is usually understood to include only great six. In Yasna 44.7, 31.3, and 51.7, Ahura Mazda's Spenta Mainyu is the instrument or "active principle" of the act of creation. It is also through this 'Bounteous Force', 'Creative Emanation' or 'Holy Spirit' that Ahura Mazda is immanent in humankind (Yasna 33.6), and how the Creator interacts with the world (Yasna 43.6).
The doctrine also has a physical dimension, in that each of the heptad is linked to one of the seven creations, which in ancient philosophy were the foundation of the universe. These physical associations are only alluded to in the Gathas, and then so subtly that they are usually lost in translation.
A systematic association is only present in later middle Persian texts, where each of the seven is listed with its 'special domain':"
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Monday, August 13, 2007
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Abide as That which is attained easily when one is convinced that one is not different from the Supreme Absolute, That which results, when that conviction becomes firm, in the experience of the Supreme Bliss of the Real, That which produces a sense of incomparable and complete satisfaction when the mind is absorbed in It - and be always happy, without the least trace of thought.
Abide as That which leads to the complete cessation of misery when the mind is absorbed in It, and the extinction of all ideas of “I”, “you” and “another,” and the disappearance of all differences - and be always happy, without the least trace of thought.
-The Song of Ribhu
Friday, August 10, 2007
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
a fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?
Thursday, August 09, 2007
The goddess Iris is the messenger of the Greek gods, and the personification of the rainbow. Like the Kundalini, she is a bridge connecting the human world with the divine. In yoga tradition it is said that union with the divine Self is impossible without the ascent of the Kundalini energy from the sacrum at the base of the spine.
Iris is particularly associated with the supreme goddess Hera (Juno), the wife of Zeus. Callimachus portrays Iris as sleeping under Hera’s throne. The throne of the Goddess is the Kundalini (called Merkabah in Hebrew).
It was sometimes said that Iris' husband was the west wind Zephyrus, the gentlest and most welcome of winds. When awakened within the subtle system of the body, the Kundalini is experienced as a gentle cool breeze.
Her attributes are the caduceus and the vase of water from the river Styx. The caduceus is a symbol of the subtle system through which the Kundalini rises. It consists of a central staff (the Sushumna Nadi of Yoga) entwined by twin serpents (Ida and Pingala nadis). The Kundalini is described as a serpent-like energy. Both the caduceus and Kundalini are associated with healing. The vase (Indian Kumbha) is a symbol of the Kundalini itself. In Greek myth, Iris was often summoned to be present at councils of the gods so that she could pour out the Styx water and thereby discover whether or not truth was being told. Kundalini awakening is believed to confer the ability to discriminate truth directly on the nervous system.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
"From Me alone
arise the manifold states of mind
of created beings."
Bhagavad Gita 10, 1-8
Friday, August 03, 2007
Consciousness and Its Place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism? by Galen Strawson
Until quite recently, there were two main schools of thought on this. According to one, the hard problem is actually very easy: the answer is that consciousness ‘emerges’ from neural processes. This succeeds in replacing ‘what is consciousness and how is it possible?’ with ‘what is emergence and how is it possible?’ But it doesn’t seem to get much further; many find it less than satisfactory. According to the other view, the hard problem is so hard that it can’t be real: consciousness must be some sort of illusion. Many of this persuasion tried hard to convince themselves that they are, in fact, not conscious, but few of them succeeded. Centuries ago, Descartes suggested, plausibly, that the attempt is self-defeating.
There is, I should add, another way to respond to the hard problem. One might hold that the world isn’t made entirely of matter after all; there is also a fundamentally different kind of stuff – mind-stuff, call it – and consciousness resides in that. Notoriously, however, this view has hard problems of its own. For example, if matter-stuff and mind-stuff are of fundamentally different kinds, how are causal relations between them possible? How is it possible that eating should be caused by feeling peckish or feeling peckish by not eating? For this and other reasons, mind-stuff has mostly fallen out of fashion. I won’t dwell on it here.
That, then, sets the stage for Galen Strawson’s Consciousness and Its Place in Nature, which consists of a lead essay by Strawson, commentaries by 18 other philosophers, and Strawson’s extensive comments on the comments. The book is very rich. On the one hand, Strawson has the kind of expansive metaphysical imagination that used to be at the heart of philosophy, but which positivism and analysis succeeded for a long while in suppressing. Also, the commentaries are, almost uniformly, insightful, informative, sophisticated and excellently argued. It is very rare for a book with this sort of format to be so complete a success, or so much fun to read. I must warn you, however, that Strawson’s way with the hard problem is wildly at odds with the views current in most of philosophy and psychology. Many readers will find them too wild to swallow; I’m not at all sure that I don’t.
There are three philosophical principles to which Strawson’s allegiance is unshakeable. The first is that the existence of consciousness (specifically, of conscious experience) is undeniable; that we are conscious is precisely what we know best. (To be sure, we can’t prove that we are conscious; but that is hardly surprising since there is no more secure premise from which such a proof could proceed.) Strawson’s second principle is a kind of monism: everything that there is is the same sort of stuff as such familiar things as tables, chairs and the bodies of animals. This, however, leaves a lot of options open since Strawson thinks that nothing much is known about that kind of stuff ‘as it is in itself’; at best science tells us only about its relational properties. What is foreclosed by Strawson’s monism is primarily the sort of ‘substance dualism’ that is frequently (but, he thinks, wrongly) attributed to Descartes.
The third of Strawson’s leading theses is a good deal more tendentious than the first two; namely, that emergence isn’t possible. ‘For any feature Y of anything that is correctly considered to be emergent from X, there must be something about X and X alone in virtue of which Y emerges, and which is sufficient for Y.’ But Strawson holds that there isn’t anything about matter in virtue of which conscious experience could arise from it; or that if there is, we have literally no idea what it could be. In particular, we can’t imagine any way of arranging small bits of unconscious stuff that would result in the consciousness of the larger bits of stuff of which they are the constituents. It’s not like liquids (Strawson’s favourite example of bona fide emergence) where we can see, more or less, how constituent molecules that aren’t liquid might be assembled to make larger things that are. How on earth, Strawson wonders, could anything of that sort explain the emergence of consciousness from matter? If it does, that’s a miracle; and Strawson doesn’t hold with those.
It’s his refusal to budge an inch on any of this that makes his discussion so interesting. Whatever you think of his metaphysical conclusions, all three of his assumptions are pretty plausible, so it’s well worth asking what’s entailed if one agrees to them. Strawson is prepared to follow the trail to the very end. I, for one, think that’s how philosophy ought to be done. You can’t make metaphysics out of fudge.
So, then, if everything is made of the same sort of stuff as tables and chairs (as per monism), and if at least some of the things made of that sort of stuff are conscious (there is no doubt that we are), and if there is no way of assembling stuff that isn’t conscious that produces stuff that is (there’s no emergence), it follows that the stuff that tables, chairs and the bodies of animals (and, indeed, everything else) is made of must itself be conscious. Strawson, having wrestled his angel to a draw, stands revealed as a panpsychist: basic things (protons, for example) are loci of conscious experience. You don’t find that plausible? Well, I warned you.
Nor, having swallowed this really enormous camel, does Strawson propose to strain at the gnats. Consider, for example: he thinks (quite rightly) that there are no experiences without subjects of experience; if there’s a pain, it must be somebody or something’s pain; somebody or something must be in it. What, then, could it be that has the experiences that panpsychists attribute to ultimate things? Nothing purely material, surely, since that would just raise the hard problem all over again. So maybe something immaterial? But monism is in force; since the constituents of tables and chairs are made of matter, so too is everything else. So, Strawson is strongly inclined to conclude, the subjects of the experiences that basic things have must be the experiences themselves. Part of the surcharge that we pay for panpsychism (not, after all, itself an immediately plausible ontology) is that we must give up on the commonsense distinction between the experience and the experiencer. At the basic level, headaches have themselves.
Similar lines of thought lead to a forced choice between Strawson’s panpsychism and the traditional distinction between things and their properties. Contrary to naive intuition, ‘Fodor’s headache’ doesn’t express a relation between something more or less permanent (Fodor) and something more or less transient (his headache). If that’s so, however, it threatens to make nonsense of counterfactual hypotheticals; ones which say what would be the case if a given thing had properties different from the ones it actually does (‘Fodor would have been happy if his headache had gone away’). And finally, having somehow got all those camels down, it’s not clear that Strawson has in fact arrived at an answer to the hard problem. Suppose that the little bits of me have (or are) conscious experiences. How does that account for my being conscious? If you have one experience and I have another, the total of our experiences comes to two; there isn’t a third experience of which the first two are the constituents. Well, if that’s true of you and me, why isn’t it also true of me and the little things I’m made of? How does their having their headaches help to explain my having mine?
I should emphasise that none of these objections has escaped Strawson’s attention. To the contrary, I’ve borrowed most of them from him. Having been up front about his problems, Strawson considers various strategies in response to them. Perhaps, for example, commonsense metaphysics really does have to be abandoned; perhaps, in particular, the object/property distinction will have to go. Strawson reads some such moral as already implicit in what’s been going on in recent physics; maybe he’s right to do so. And maybe there are mysteries we must learn to live with; goings-on that we just aren’t built to understand (or that our logic isn’t). Maybe the composition of big experiences out of little ones is among those.
In a way, I’m quite sympathetic to all that. I think it’s strictly true that we can’t, as things stand now, so much as imagine the solution of the hard problem. The revisions of our concepts and theories that imagining a solution will eventually require are likely to be very deep and very unsettling. (That’s assuming what’s by no means obvious: that we are smart enough to solve it at all.) Philosophers used to think (some still do) that a bit of analytical tidying up would make the hard problem go away. But they were wrong to think that. There is hardly anything that we may not have to cut loose from before the hard problem is through with us.
Still, all else being equal, whoever gives up least is the winner; so it matters whether Strawson has abandoned more than he needs to. I’m not convinced that we will have to throw overboard as much as he thinks we will. In particular, we might try denying the claim, cited above, that if Y emerges from X, then there must be something about X in virtue of which Y emerges from it. Why not just say: some things are true about the world because that’s the kind of world it is; there’s nothing more to make of it. That sounds defeatist perhaps; but it really isn’t since, quite plausibly, it’s the sort of thing that we will have to say sooner or later whether or not saying it would help with the hard problem.
Typical scientific explanations appeal to natural laws. Some natural laws are explained by appealing to others, but some aren’t; some of them are basic. So, roughly, the laws about molecules explain the laws about liquidity; and the laws about atoms explain the laws about molecules; and the laws about subatomic bits and pieces explain the laws about atoms . . . and so on down, but not so on down for ever. Eventually, we get to laws about whatever the smallest things are (or, perhaps, to laws about the fundamental structure of space-time); and there we simply stop. Basic laws can’t be explained; that’s what makes them basic. There isn’t a reason why they hold, they just do. Even if basic physical laws are true of everything, they don’t explain everything; in particular, they don’t explain why, of all the basic laws that there might have been, these are the ones there actually are. I don’t say that’s the right way to look at things, but it’s a perfectly respectable and traditional way. At a minimum, it seems that the various sciences form some sort of hierarchy, with physics (or whatever) at the bottom. That’s much as one might expect if the sort of view I’m discussing is at least approximately true.
Maybe, however, there’s something wrong with this view and we’ll finally have to do without it. Maybe the hard problem shows that not all basic laws are laws of physics. Maybe it shows that some of them are laws of emergence. If that’s so, then it’s not true after all that if Y emerges from X there must be something about X in virtue of which Y emerges from it. Rather, in some cases, there wouldn’t be any way of accounting for what emerges from what. Consciousness might emerge from matter because matter is the sort of stuff from which consciousness emerges. Full stop.
It would then have turned out that the hard problem is literally intractable, and that would be pretty shocking. The idea that the basic laws are the laws about the smallest things has been central to the ‘scientific world-view’ ever since there started to be one. On the other hand, as far as I can see, it’s not any sort of a priori truth. I suppose one can imagine a world where all the big things are made out of small things, and there are laws about the small things and there are laws about the big things, but some laws of the second kind don’t derive from any laws of the first kind. In that world, it might be a basic law that when you put the right sorts of neurons together in the right sorts of way, you get a subject of consciousness. There would be no explaining why you get a subject of consciousness when you put those neurons together that way; you just do and there’s the end of it. Perhaps Strawson would say that in such a world, emergence would be a miracle; but if it would, why isn’t every basic law a miracle by definition? I have my pride. I would prefer that the hard problem should turn out to be unsolvable if the alternative is that we’re all too dumb to solve it. All I ask is that the kind of unsolvable that it turns out to be has respectable precedents.
Anyhow, Strawson is right that the hard problem really is very hard; and I share his intuition that it isn’t going to get solved for free. Views that we cherish will be damaged in the process; the serious question is which ones and how badly. If you want an idea of just how hard the hard problem is, and just how strange things can look when you face its hardness without flinching, this is the right book to read.
Jerry Fodor teaches philosophy and psychology at Rutgers University.