Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Why I sometimes feel ashamed to be a Muslim

An evil means to an evil end Firoz Bakht Ahmed Indian Express: Wednesday, August 16, 2006
As a Muslim, my head goes down in shame each time I find a Muslim name attached with the inhuman and insane acts of terrorism. I feel let down by those marauders who follow the same religion as I do and bow before the same God. It agonises me when I hear that Muslim tenants are refused accommodation in cities.
Muslim voices of sanity aren’t loud enough. Even the London Muslims, while condemning the July 7 killings, added a ‘but’ about the ‘root cause’ of it. We must agree to the principle that killings of innocents cannot be justified irrespective of race, religion, place or ethnicity. Many Muslims are guilty of not speaking out against what happened in Darfur; many are guilty of being sympathetic towards a despot like Saddam Hussein. Many don’t speak out against unjust acts of Muslims against non-Muslims.
Extremists’ attacks anywhere are acts of depravity and wickedness. They are not the weapon of the weak against the strong but the rage of the angry against the defenceless and innocent. An evil means to an evil end. Jihad is the most misunderstood concept by our non-Muslim brethren and even by Muslims. The true meaning of jihad in Islam is not to be against other communities, groups or religions but against the vices and shortcomings within Muslim society. First an individual fights jihad against himself. After that he continues the efforts with his wife, family, locality and the community. This is Jihad-e-Akbar, the real meaning of jihad.
Muslims must come out openly against outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Al-Qaeda, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Sipah-e-Sahaba and others, all committed to desecrating peaceful co-existence and harmony in the world. In line with the jihadis, however, is the mentality of the US. It didn’t attack Israel for occupying Palestinian land; it did attack Iraq for aggression against Kuwait. This is how they interpret their war against terror — according to their whim and fancy.
Indian Hindus and Muslims are to be congratulated on acting with restraint after Mumbai’s tragedy. Saner elements in both communities should take steps to thwart attempts by communalists to play up such incidents.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Inspiration, heightened sensitivity

Postmodern spirituality A dialogue in five parts Part IV: The positive Core Concept atthe Center of late Postmodern Philosophy: Inspiration Roland Benedikter THE CORE PROCEEDING AND THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF LATE POSTMODERN PHILOSOPHY: INSPIRATION
Let's put it this way: Postmodernist thinkers tried to make one step beyond modernity - to go one step further than classical modernity (which's reign ended, in a certain sense, with 1968, when the fundaments of emancipative postmodernity where laid). They tried to develop a more evolved way of being modern. They tried, as I said, to transform the first enlightenment into a second enlightenment: From a diachronic into a synchronistic, “doubled” consciousness of thinking - in the very moment it happens...
As a postmodernist, you are, in every second, very critical towards your own thoughts, towards the contents of thinking you are producing. You are, in every moment, very sensitive about what is going on in your mind. You are sensitive about what is said by yourself; about what is said about yourself by the language you are using; about what you actually say; and about the hidden difference to what you really wanted to say with those words you were pronouncing. Jean Francois Lyotard called this “synchronistic” sensitivity a kind of “heightened sensitivity or attention” or a “strengthened aesthetic suspense of mind” - saying that it would be more a feeling or a basic human attitude in the “reign of the will” than a thought in the traditional sense. He said this sensitivity derived from “deconstructive” freedom (cf. Jean Francois Lyotard: Philosophy And Painting In Their Epoch Of Experiment, 1981. In: Andrew Benjamin, ed.: The Lyotard Reader, Blackwell 1989).
And he said that this heightened sensitivity occurs in the very moment it is perceived by the subject. It is, by its basic characteristic, a self-conscious sensitivity of thinking, which he linked to the growing “erotization of the will” we talked of earlier. And indeed: That permanently self-conscious sensitivity towards the activities of your own mind is what postmodernity is about...
Now, the important thing is that postmodern philosophy made of this feeling (or altered, synchronic sensitivity) a whole cultural paradigm, a whole socio-political program and the core goal of the enlightend emancipation of the subject in general. It is very important to take that aspect in consideration, in order to avoid falling into the prejudice that postmodern thinking is about critizising reason. Yes, it is, to a certain extend. But the main focus is on the “doubling” or “making synchronistic” of the self-aware mind...
I think you can call such a synchronically heightened attention, which feels like a “permanent origin out of itself” (Jean Gebser) - an inspiration. Inspiration: That is the true name for that state of mind. Inspiration, from my point of view, is the congenial state of mind of postmodernity...
Because of these core characteristics, the state of mind of inspiration, according to Steiner, seems to have some “parental” relationships with two central cognitive proceedings of the postmodern subject (even if those proceedings, as I said, remain, so far, in most cases pre- or subconscious, and are not fully reflected, but only instinctively done by postmodern philosophy and its core method of deconstruction):
- Inspiration coincides with the proceeding of “the self-awareness of the idea in the very moment it is being born”, which is the core presumption for a “free subject”. Because “the (postmodern) subject must simultaneously contrapose itself to the idea which is raising in its mind and thus observe it in the very moment it occurs; if not, the subject falls under the reign of the idea and becomes unfree” (cf. the “bible of postmodern anarchism”: Rudolf Steiner: The Philosophy Of Freedom. Principles Of A Modern World View, 1894. In: Collected Works No. 4, Dornach 1997).
- Inspiration coincides with observing the permanent emergence of the “living sphere” of the “individual moral intuition” as core experience of a “higher self” or “witness” parallel to my ego - with “this inner voice that the subject has to identify with free conscience”. (Cf. Steiner, ibid.; cf. Erich Fromm: Beyond Illusions. The importance of Marx and Freud, Munich 1989; cf. Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber in Dialogue: Moral Judgment in a Postmodern World. In: What Is Enlightenment, Issue 24: Morality Bites! Searching for Ethics in a Postmodern Age, February-April 2004).
So summing up, you could say that, if we try to put the whole core proceeding and methodology, but also the problem and goal of postmodern englightenment into one single concept, into one signal word, than we should choose “Inspiration”. Postmodernity is about the state of mind of “Inspiration”, because “Inspiration” is congenial to “deconstruction”. Inspiration is the result of deconstruction – a pure flux and flow of a mind which became conscious of its own pre-conceptual life-stream and concept-building “happening”. That exactly is, what postmodern philosophy, at least in its late period, was (and is) about, with its whole heart and soul - but still without knowing fully what it is doing and what it is searching for.
Inspiration is a “different” (or diffĂ©rend, as Jean Francois Lyotard said) kind of aesthetic, a different kind of feeling, a different kind of approach to reality – and, first of all, it is a different approach towards your normal ego, towards yourself. That approach is not anti-rational or irrational, not at all. Instead, it is another form, in my opinion, a more evolved form of rationality. At least in its goals, in what it wants. And at least in those crucial dimensions of “borderline rationality” which some of the main postmodern thinkers, in their late works, tried to evoke and to understand.
This kind of “sensitive” or “perceiving” rationality seems to lead almost necessarily to a certain point beyond modern rationality, but always hoping that it could include the best of it and enlarge it into a broader horizon. It seems to lead from the “splitted” rationality of modernity to a kind of “double-I”- (or ego/witness-) rationality of postmodernity. It seems to lead to a certain dimension of “witness” rationality in the form of Inspiration, so to say. And exactly this may be one possibility of a sustainable bridge between the European-Western concepts of “the productive void” of Postmodernity on the one hand and the Eastern concepts of “nothingness” at the other hand. PART ONE PART FIVE

Erotization of the will

Postmodern spirituality A dialogue in five parts Part II: Perspectives of the proto-spirituality of late postmodernity Roland Benedikter
For me, this is the most important, the crucial point regarding the whole of the postmodern period from 1979-2001: from Jean Francois Lyotards “The postmodern condition” (1979) to September 11, 2001, and to Roger Rosenblatt's famous, outstandingly bitter an aggressive article “The age of irony comes to an end. No longer will we fail to take things seriously” appeared in Time Magazine, two weeks after the terrorist attacks. This little, but heavily debated article was, in my viewpoint, a first, even if pre-scientific and certainly not philosophically consistent, but symptomatic indication of the beginning of the end of radical postmodern constructivism, as we knew it until then - and of the beginning of a new, “subjective-objective” epoch of “post-postmodernity”, that will have to re-integrate appropriately, and in a rational, empirical and intersubjective way, nominalism with realism into a new, progressive paradigmatic framework for Western-European societies...
The turn to traditional religion may be helpful for many people, and I'm not against it. Not at all...I instead think that the new, inclusive and integrative paradigm we need now could rather come from a rationally evolved, truly enlightend subjective mind. And the most evolved rational mind that we probably have so far - the mind that begins to know about its own ontological act, about its own activity beyond the ego, the “thinking that begins to think itself and to discover what lies in its shadow” (Foucault) - seems to be a certain potential of the deconstructive postmodern mind. This potential seems to be located not primarily in the intellect, but in the realm of the will. That is very important. Jean Francois Lyotard called the place, where the strongest innovative potential in postmodern culture could be found, “the progressive, universal erotization of the will” (Epitaph Of The Intellectual, 1984). And I think, with that philosophical metaphor he grasped indeed an important movement of consciousness development in the personal and in the cultural sphere of European-Western societies. A movement of transformation and progress that is not, like the renaissance of religions, collective and belief-oriented, but primarily oriented towards the consciousness of the subject. And therefore it is, even if often in strange ways, like in the late works of Lyotard or Derrida, half-, proto- or pre-gnostic, if you want to put it in these terms...
Some day, which is maybe not too far ahead, the postmodern mind may reach the border of total auto-deconstruction, not only as a personal, but also as a cultural achievement. Then it will be forced to discover an “objective” dimension which lives in the subjective void. It will have to take the step forward into the perceiving will. A step that must be at the same time rational, subjectively controllable and “essential”. If you observe, what is secretely already happening with the “deconstructed” subject in our postmodern culture, and with that culture as a whole, you can see: There is already a broad “erotization of the will” (Lyotard) at work. You see it in the mass media, in advertising, in popular culture. And you can see it in most of the average lifestyles of the “postmodern” citizens of the European-Western world. It is, in large parts, a world of the will – individually, and culturally. It is the world that has been anticipated by Friedrich Nietzsche in its negative (consciousness-diminuishing) aspects, and by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in its positive (consciousness-growing) potentials. The “erotization of the will” begins to penetrate every moment and every space in our late or “mature” postmodern societies.

The atoms will have the last laugh

ray harris Says: August 12th, 2006 at 3:19 pm Hi Andy, Two thoughts: Do atoms exist without humans? I’d suggest, but this is of course speculation, that any sentient being at the same cognitive level would perceive atoms. This is because the data leads one to that conclusion. For me there’s a balance. Sentient beings still have to contend with a real, physical cosmos. They can imagine all sorts of possibilities but that imagination is always tested by what really happens.
I firmly believe that tomorrow the sun will rise in the north and it will be green (but I might be wrong about that). The cosmos is reasonably predictable which means that sentient beings will generally be able to arrive at similar conclusions. 1+1=2. The creation of an intersubjective space is predicated on a certain degree of common experience. Even if a remote tribe encounters others and they have a magical view of the world, we can find enough common experience from which to build an intersubjective space. Without such a common ground we could not learn each others languages.
As for free will - how someone will react is not predictable. Yes, you can create a chain of events that - in hind sight - can be said to have caused a certain decision, but you will never be able to predict a decision. If there is no ‘free will’ then theoretically all decisions can be predicted assuming you have all the relevant information. Human behaviour is not completely predictable, there is a randomness to it. But then, I have never assumed that free will is a decision made free of any contributing factors. When asked why a decision was made people will give a reason which necessarily includes a causal chain. We do exercise choice and sometimes the choices we make are extraordinary and with an equally extraordinary causal chain and reasoning.
Are atoms aware of the causal chain and do they reason? You are right about complexity. I would say that the idea of agency and interiors only has real meaning at a certain level of complexity, namely that at which holons can create and participate in an intersubjective space. And given that I’m not an atom whisperer the idea of an atom having an interior has no meaning for me. It’s just an intellectual slight of hand.
David Swedlow Says: August 12th, 2006 at 10:09 pm Very nice discussion with the relevent points brought into focus. I’d like to caution the reader toward skepticism of understanding interiority simply because we can understand the language of another. I very much like the “degrees of freedom” argument for sentience. This weeks New Scientist has a story on Quantum Loop Gravity which seems to support the notion of some kind of interiority of fundamental-like particles.
We think that we can infer a bit about what is going on in the mind of a dog, and even more in the mind of an ape that can use rudimentary sign-language. I think we must remember how common it is to misinterpret the interiors of those with whom we share the same primary language and many years of co-habitation. Married couples would argue pretty vehemently that the success rate of gauging another’s interiors even with a common contextual framework is pretty low. Trying to infer the interior of quarks or galaxies is so far removed from our native contextua framework that it can seem like nothing more than alien randomness, though perhaps sometimes beautiful.
I recall a story someone recounted about the experiments to talk with dolphins. We try to get them to repeat our signals, as in “me Human, you Dolphin.” But when the Dolphin’s make unique noises not in the lexicon we are trying to fashion, we stupidly interpret it as failure for them to comprehend our linguistic structures, rather than wondering if the dolphins aren’t responding with their own tests of our lexical flexibility.
Which further reminds me of Albert Hoffman’s notes from his first animal trials of LSD-25, when he noted that it apparently had no effect on dogs. After he later deteremined that there was an effect, he justified his previous observations of lack of significant response as meaning that dogs lacked any kind of substantive interiority. How weird is that? How would he expect a dog to communicate “oooh, wow, the floor is melting into rivers of kibbles.” It seems that the true expression of anthropocentrism is something closer to: since I can’t infer that your interior is in any way similar to my own despite the phenomenally reduced perspective I have based on my interpretations of your exterior, I can only conclude that you have no interior. And we wonder why we go to war? The atoms will have the last laugh.

Meditation makes one aware that one does not have free will

Andy Smith Says: August 12th, 2006 at 9:49 am “The interior/exterior distinction is purely a human ‘narrative’ construct. Something is exterior only to our concept of an interior. The ability to conceive of such a distinction is only achievable by sentient beings at a certain level of development (we don’t know at what level this occurs). In other words, an interior is something a sentient being believes it has. It is the sum total of its subjective experiences, thoughts, feelings, sensations, ideas and fantasies. Do atoms have this subjective ‘interior’?
You are pointing to a (still larger) problem with Wilber V, the whole idea of perspectives. In his soon to be out book Integral Spirituality, he accepts the postmodern argument that there is no “given”, that the world as we understand it is created at our level. Now this doesn’t mean Wilber or pomos believe everything is created, a la Cohen. But it does imply that nothing like what we know as atoms (and molecules, and cells, etc.) actually existed until human beings evolved who were capable of perceiving these particular forms. As I discussed in my review of IS on Wilber’s site, this seems to call into question the entire four quadrant model. The notion that all these lower forms of existence have four quadrants only emerges with our species (and even then, only at a very recent date).
Indeed, the entire notion of evolution becomes difficult. We presently have a fairly coherent view of how life evolved on earth, beginning with atoms. Some of it, particularly the earliest events, is speculative, of course, but most scientists think the story hangs together pretty well. But if nothing like atoms, molecules, cells and so on actually exists outside of our particular perspective, what exactly did exist before us, and how did it develop into us?
As arguments like this suggest, the myth of the given is not really the solid orienting generalization, accepted by all right-thinking theorists today, that Wilber makes it out to be. There are some very prominent philosophers who don’t buy it, e.g., John Searle. Suppose we were to accept Searle’s view that atoms, cells, etc., in forms as we know them pre-existed us. Can we say anything about agency or interior that doesn’t sound totally fanciful?
You say: “I understand agency to be about choice. To have agency is to have the power to act. In the usual sense of the word this means a conscious act, choice. I do not think that atoms have agency. Atoms do not have choices. They do not act, they ‘react’. In what sense do atoms act? They are the passive objects that react to the laws of physics. They do not exercise choice.”
I would respond, we don’t have choice, in the sense of free will, either. What we can say definitely distinguishes us from atoms, and from other forms of existence we commonly describe as lower than ourselves, is that we have more “degrees of freedom”. I put that in quotes because it is a commonly used term, but I don’t mean freedom in the sense of free will. What an atom will do in any given situation is much more predictable (at least discounting quantum theory, which is another problem I don’t want to get into here) than what a human will do. This doesn’t prove that we have free will or what people commonly call choice. It just establishes that we are far more complex than atoms. A given series of events impinging on us (indeed, we are so much more complex than atoms that the range of what can be considered events that are relevant to our response our behavior is far greater) has a far less predictable result.
One way to look at it is in terms of states. An atom can exist in a limited number of states, so its response to some event is limited to its entering into one of these states. A molecule, composed of several or many atoms, has a great many more possible states of existence. If we were to hypothesize, simplisticially, that an atom could exist in only two states, a molecule of n atoms might exist in 2 to the nth number ot states. All of these states might not be possible, but clearly the molecule would have a great many more states available to it.
Hierarchy is about holons organizing together into higher holons. Molecules organize into cells, cells into organisms. By the time we get to humans, the number of possible states is truly beyond astronomical. If every cell in our brain could exist in only two states, on and off, the number of possible states our brain can take is beyond imagination.
This, I claim, is a somewhat simplified but basically valid way of understanding complexity. And it shows why our behavior can be so hard to predict. But it doesn’t establish that there is anything qualitatively, as opposed to quantitatively, different between ourselves and atoms. Many philosophers have tried to make arguments demonstrating that we have free will. I have never seen such an argument of this kind that worked. Take any supposedly free, chosen behavior by an individual, and there is no reason why it can’t be understood as the outcome of an enormous number of inputs on an even more enormous number of responding, organized holons. Even if one brings in elements of unpredictability such as chaos or quantumt theory, these do not support the notion of free will. They may indicate that some behaviors can never be predicted, but that doesn’t mean they were chosen freely.
Indeed, the notion of free will makes no sense to me. It seems to fall apart upon close examination. Ask yourself why you do anything and you should always be able to see it as the outcome of a weighting process of certain factors. If we make some decision that we call conscious, such as to move to another location or accept some job, how do we make that decision? By considering all the possible plusses and minuses. Where is there room in that process for free will? Are you going to intentionally make a choice that goes against the grain of these factors? Almost never do we, and if we do, I would say it’s because of yet another factor that tips the scale in the other direction.
Not all our decisions are what we call conscious, of course, but even less of a case for free will can be made for decisions involving unconscious factors. If we find ourselves making some decision without really understanding why, surely no one would call that a result of free will. I can’t prove that this is the way we work, of course, in a way that would convince others, but it seems far more plausible to me than the notion of free will. We evolved,like other forms of life, to do things that promote our survival. I don’t see where free will comes into the process of surviving. Survival is promoted by making the most appropriate action based on as much information as possible in a given situation. There is no room in that decision making process that I can see for free will.
There is, of course, a feeling or sense of free will. This is very deeply imbedded in us, so deeply imbedded that thinkers I believe ought to know better accept that we actually have it. But believing we have free will is not the same thing as having it, just as believing we are fully awake or conscious is not the same as being fully awake or conscious. I think our belief in free will is an evolutionary adaptation. Given that we have a sense of identity, we need to believe we are acting freely, or can act freely, for life to be worth living. If we really experienced at a profound level that we were not free, there would be no motive to survive.
Unless, of course, we used that experience to escape life, which is one good definition of meditation. Meditation should make one aware that one does not have free will, that one is asleep, that one simply responds, however complexly, to events impinging on us. I think this is the fundamental message of all spiritual disciplines.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The pluralistic utopia of 'Paradise Garden'

When imagining utopia, the green forests of Eden or clear blue seas of a Mediterranean paradise might come across one's mind. But when it comes to the men and women living there, one's mind goes blank. Why is it that dreams of a heavenly land always secludes human beings? Could this be because two people can never have the same vision of a utopia, or is it merely because people desire complete isolation from other humans?
Journalist-turned-author Kwon Ki-tae takes this question further in his first novel "Paradise Garden." By taking a stab at people's indifferent ideals of paradise, the 40-year-old author opens up a fictional world where different utopian ideals clash. "Since the world is comprised of all sorts of different views on ideal lands, it would be literally impossible for one type of a utopia to make everybody happy," Kwon said in an interview with The Korea Herald. "Pluralistic conceptions of utopia - that's what I wanted to talk about." Kwon's belief in pluralism is well expressed in Chapter 75, in which he describes the different eye structures of creatures.
"Are the colors seen by human eyes really the accurate colors of the earth? Is the world seen by human eyes really a perfect vision? Since a honeybee can only see gray, there cannot be a red tulip in its world. Due to its compound eyes, a dragonfly sees everything in mosaic. A snake can capture the heat and temperature with its eyes. While humans see only darkness at night in deserts or jungles, a snake sees movements of all sorts. I think this chapter best represents what I wanted to say," Kwon said. "What we believe as a perfect world could actually be a complete hell for others. This is why a singular paradise can never exist."
"Paradise Garden" centers on two characters, Kim Beom-o and Won Jik-su. Won, a faithful believer of market-economy principles, believes that a utopia only exists when the strongest takes over. If everyone had free access to the land, it could not be a paradise, he believes. Kim, on the other hand, believes that utopia is a land of nature where anyone can enter and heal their wounds. When Won, the president of a major conglomerate, plots to take over Dowon Arboretum, which was formed by Kim and his friends, Kim decides to fight back. Here, Kim represents ordinary white-collar workers living under oppression, while Won represents the owners of such powerful organizations. Speaking for the author, Kim learns the meaning of pluralism while he battles against the conglomerate, becoming more violent over time. This bloody collision emphasizes the dangers of forcing one's utopian ideal to another.
Although Kim might represent the dreams of many working men in Korea, while Won stands for the few powerful men - whom many might despise - Kwon does not take sides. "Since I have more in common with Kim Beom-o, I portrayed a lot of myself into him in the beginning. But Won Jik-su isn't a bad guy. He tries to live up to his beliefs just like Kim and everyone else," said Kwon. "When you have lived all your life competing, it is natural to believe that real victory can only exist when there is a loser." Kwon also has antipathy toward the repression and control of society and reveals an intriguing vision of naturalism and anarchism. But he believes that a society free from control is not the answer. Such thoughts are depicted when Kim and his friends talk about Auroville in India. Formed by people who believed in a non-governmental society, Auroville was once regarded as a utopia. But with no economic and social laws, the village was nearly destroyed.
"I wanted to capture an aspect of current society where people are being watched and controlled by companies and organizations. But I don't regard naturalism or anarchism as ideal concepts," said Kwon. "I believe that a community isolated from the real world would only fall back into an idle primitive state." "Paradise Garden" is a lengthy novel of two separate books that have about 400 pages each. Despite the lengthiness, the book is readable because of its intriguing plot. "Once I opened the book, the sentences flowed and I was turning the pages unconsciously. Then suddenly, I was reading the last sentence of the book," literary critic Kim Hwa-young said. Although many journalists dream of writing a novel one day, the dream is easier said than done. Reporters might know how to write, but are lost on what to write about. (

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A tribute to Bettina Baumer

Themes in art and mysticism VANAMALA PARTHASARATHY SAMARASYA - Studies in Indian Arts, Philosophy and Interreligious Dialogue: Sadananda Das, Ernst Furlinger — Editors; D.K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd., The Hindu Book Review Tuesday, Aug 08, 2006
This volume is a tribute to Bettina Baumer, a renowned Indologist, one of the foremost expounders of Kashmir Saivism and a well-known figure in the field of inter-religious dialogue. It is a voluminous presentation of 32 essays representing her main areas of study. Each essay deserves special treatment. Space being a constraint only a select few would figure. There is a biographical essay and three more under the title `Sharing of Experiences'. The latter carries an article by S. Kumar [The Divine Master: Swami Lakshman Joo (1907-91)]. Bettina received initiation from this great master in 1987. Unfortunately, the author has not included any details regarding their interaction.
The main section has three chapters. Nine contributors deal with a wide range of subjects under Indian philosophy and spirituality, the main focus being Kashmir non-dualistic Tantric Saivism except for three significant essays.
Tantric Saivism: A. Chakrabarti's essay analyses in detail the key philosophical term in Kashmir Saivism `visranti' by referring to the writings of Abhinavagupta. (975-1025 A.D.). H. N. Chakravarty provides a translation of the Tantric hymn, Bahurupagarbha Stotra, in lucid English.
The two exceptionally good essays are `A Commentary on the Opening Verses of Tantrasara' by A. Sanderson and `A New Theology of Bliss' by A.Wilke. In the former, the author has chosen three opening verses from the text, scrutinised them in detail, also citing other works of Abhinavagupta. Elaborate interpretation of the term `Hrudaya' the object of his prayer in the first one, discussion on the Mandala and deities of Trika form a part. Names of Abhinanavagupta's parents and his Gurus are elicited from Tantrasara and from his other works.
Art and aesthetics: The latter is an in-depth study of the text Lalitatrisatibhashya, a commentary on Lalitasahasranama, which claims to be a part of Srividya form of worship, which owes much to Kashmir Saivism and is nowadays the most widespread Sakta Tantra in India. She considers "religion as a living body and a dynamic organism in constant flux" and Srividya "has been synthetic and inclusivist from its very beginnings." This being her stand she has demonstrated the `Vedantisation of Tantra' and `Tantrisation of Vedanta' with regard to the text by referring to relevant portions.
`Indian Arts and Aesthetics' comprises nine absorbing essays by eminent scholars on subjects such as lithographs, miniature painting, and the colour theory based on primary colours, temple architecture and spread of religious movement. D. Desai has brought out explicitly the relevance of textual sources in comprehending the nuances and symbolism of temple architecture with special reference to Khajuraho temples (Relevance of Textual Sources in the Study of Temple Art). E. Fischer has deftly employed the Saundaryalahari verses to analyse a Rajasthani painting (The Goddess of the Island of Gems).
The essays, `Beginning of Saiva-Siddhanta' by R.N.Misra and `Guhavasi and Devaraja in Cambodia' by R.Nagaswamy have their focus on inscriptions. The former records the early history of Saiva Siddhanta in northern Madhya Pradesh and its spread to Central India during 7th - 10th centuries and also ascertains the causative factors. In the latter the author has ingeniously substantiated that the Pasupata cult flourished before the Devaraja cult in Cambodia and how the latter eclipsed the former by referring to the Pasupata Sutras and the commentary, and the Linga Purana.
K.Vatsyayan's wonderful exposition on Mount Kailasa (Mountain, Myth, Monuments) will be useful to comprehend the import of `A Journey to Mount Kailash' by B. Imhasly. She presents the importance and significance of the sacred mountain in Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina traditions and as the source of inspiration for myth, literature, architecture, sculpture, music and dance.
Inter-religious dialogue: The section `Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue' has 14 thought-provoking contributions. K. Baier's article points out the practice of Zen meditation introduced in Christianity as a trans-religious medium in the 20th century (Trans-Religious Studies and Existential Interpretation).
M.von.Bruck presents valuable views on surmounting the present-day social, economic and political problems (The Ethics of Justice in a Cross-cultural Context). In the essay `The Doctrine of Recognition (Pratyabhijna) and Interreligious Dialogue' J. R. Dupuche explores in depth the concept of Kashmir Saivism and the Bible too with a section `Bettina and Pratyabhijna'.
A.M.Haas's probe into the subject of Self and its knowledge in the western tradition of mysticism, history of western thought and the Upanishads is very scholarly (Self-knowledge-Space of Inwardness). Distinction between `Inward' and `Outward Man' also forms a part. E.Jungclaussen reconsiders four sermons of Johannes Tauler (1300-60) to find and comprehend the meaning of `Nothingness' and it has been done to `fullness' (The Meaning of Nothingness).
A.Michaels's `Between Similarity and Contrast' delves into the forms of inter-religious debates in the West and South Asia from the pages of religious history. Finally, the crucial essay by R.Panikkar is a quest to understand the essential issues of `life' and `death' through intercultural metaphor of `The Drop of Water' in a dialogue between Hinduism and Christianity. Priceless contributions, good print and photographs together make the volume manna from heaven.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Man can hardly be defined

Thursday, July 20, 2006 A Collection of Philosophical and Theological Definitions of a Human Being
1. Aristotle— a “rational animal”
2. Nietzsche—the “yet undetermined animal” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra)
3. Dostoyevsky’s underground man—“an ungrateful biped” (Notes from the Underground)
I would love to expand this list to include 10-20 philosophical/theological “definitions” of a human being, so please send your comments (and if possible, please cite the work in which you found the definition). Also, I would be interested in which definition you believe to be the best and why. posted by Cynthia Nielsen at 9:49 AM 19 Comments:
Paul said... Roy Clouser: "a human is a religious being". Genesis Regained, p.3. See his articles on genesis & evolution here: I agree for various reasons. 12:08 PM
Cynthia Nielsen said... Thanks, Paul. I recently purchased Clouser's book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality. I haven't read it yet, but I look forward to doing so. Cheers, Cynthia 12:44 PM
David Mackinder said... Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.(Pascal, Pensees, 347) 1:22 PM
Xavier said... Since human beings are persons, then I suppose we might use Boethius' definition of a person as "an individual substance of a rational nature." I should add, of course, that not every person is a human being so that might weaken the value of my contribution, I suppose :-). 3:26 PM
the metaphysician said... Don't forget "featherless biped." :) 7:34 PM
byron said... I was about to add 'featherless biped'. The coiner was Plato himself. When Diogenes plucked a chicken and set it loose in the marketplace calling 'Here is Plato's man!', Plato adjusted the definition to 'featherless biped with broad nails'. 9:26 PM
Cynthia Nielsen said... Thanks, Byron, Sean, Xavier and David for contributing. Personally, I like the idea of "defining" a human being as essentially imago Dei--even though one probably cannot fully explicate imago Dei given that we are images of the incomprehensible God, nonetheless, even if one, as Calvin did, understands the fall to entail noetic as well as affective effects,our status as imago Dei is ineradicable. Cheers,Cynthia 6:14 AM
Joel said... Ludwig Feuerbach famously said, "Man is what he eats."Marx sees human beings as "homo faber" - toolmaking man, defined by labor and production.There's some true to both of those if one recalls that our food is to do the will of God and that the first work of humanity is liturgy. 9:38 AM
Cynthia Nielsen said... Hi Joel,Thanks for two more additions. On the humorous side, I think (but am not positive about this) that Paul Tillich once said that human beings are not best defined as rational animals but rather as animals who are always in heat. Any interesting thought...Cheers,Cynthia 9:53 AM
Anonymous said... Tillich's comment might be more self-revealing than he intended, given what we now know of his life . . .10:32 AM
Rev Sam said... To be human is to be restless, eternally unfinished.(Links to this post) 1:13 PM
John said... Great Question! I took a course this semester on Theological Anthropology with Ian McFarland...Most of his books have dealt (in some way or another) with the imago dei, personhood and what constitutes a human being (his most recent book titled "The Divine Image: Envisioning the Invisible God").Ultimately, in discussing this topic it becomes increasingly difficult to settle on precise definitions. THis became especially clear while reading post-colonial and disability theology. In the end, the argument can be made that humans are not the imago dei...rather we were created in the imago dei (perhaps a matter of semantics, but thats what we do in theology!). Thus, it is Christ alone who imputes to us our image-ness. THis guards against abstract and difficult definitions that circle around rationality, freedom, or a capacity for self transcendance.rather than the image being something within us, it is nothing less than Jesus Christ...and it is in him that we find our definition of what it means to be human.what do you think? 3:11 PM
Steve Bishop said... For Plato, humans are immortal souls locked in the dual prison of body and world; for Darwin, we are civilised animals; for Marx, we are an alienated, working self-creation; for Nietzsche, we are "a rope fastened between animal and Superman - a rope over an abyss"; for Freud, a sex-obsessed biped, for biologist Richard Dawkins, we are gene survival machines; for advocates of strong artificial intelligence, we are trousered computers ... For H. Evan Runner 'Man [sic] is a covenantal being.'2:46 AM
Steve Bishop said... Zoologist George Gaylord Simpson when asked what is man[sic]? answered ‘The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer the question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely.’ 2:53 AM
Clay-Edward Dixon said... I believe that Gabriel Marcel refers to humanity as : Homo Viator 11:15 AM
Cynthia Nielsen said... Many thanks to all for these suggestions. My list now "overfloweth." Cheers,Cynthia 1:43 PM
D.W. Congdon said... It seems we need some more theological definitions, so here is one from Eberhard Juengel:"Truly human persons are those who are able to accept themselves, able to receive their being continually anew as a gift. Truly human persons are those who are gifted - not with any special advantages, but - with themselves. ... In sum: the truly human person is the person who is definitively recognized by God."I would also like to add that John is absolutely right to say that the imago Dei is Jesus Christ, and thus human beings are not naturally created in the image of God but must be re-created in the image of God. The imago Dei is a relational concept that signifies our restored relation to God, and thus happens through our reconciliation to God in Jesus Christ.Juengel's definition is in concord with the imago Dei as I just outlined it, because he speaks not of natural human persons but of the "truly human person" -- the person who now corresponds to God. 7:36 AM
Cynthia Nielsen said... In my saying that human beings are imago Dei, I am not saying that we are the perfect imago Dei, which is Jesus Christ and he alone. Perhaps the clarification should be made--created in or to the image of God. Yet, I would say that believers are re-created in the imago Christi. Which in the end may be that we are saying the same thing. Cheers,Cynthia 8:12 AM
Tom said... "Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded."G. K. Chesterton, Heretics 6:48 AM