Thursday, January 31, 2008

Despite his lifelong interest in religious pluralism, Gandhi had not the leisure to work out a systematic treatise on the subject

Many years ago, I had an argument with the philosopher Ramchandra (Ramu) Gandhi about his grandfather’s faith. I had always admired the Mahatma, but my secular-socialist self sought to rid him of the spiritual baggage which seemed unnecessary to his broader message. Could we not follow Gandhi in his empathy for the poor and his insistence on non-violence while rejecting the religious idiom in which these ideas were cloaked?
Ramu Gandhi argued that the attempt to secularise Gandhi was both mistaken and misleading. If you take the Mahatma’s faith out of him, he told me, then Gandhi would not be the Mahatma. His religious beliefs were central to his political and social philosophy — in this respect, the man was the message.
Gandhi was born a decade after the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. This was a time of widespread scepticism among the educated classes in England and Europe, a sentiment captured in the title of Thomas Hardy’s poem, God’s Funeral. But outside the continent, this was also a time of heightened missionary activity. In their new colonies in Africa and Asia, European priests sought to claim the heathen and the pagan for Christianity. In reaction, Hindus started missionary societies of their own, as in the Arya Samaj, which sought to make Hindus more militant to face the challenge of the Church.
The distinctiveness of Gandhi’s faith was that it simultaneously rejected the atheism of the intellectuals as well as the proselytising of the missionaries. The Vaishnavism of his family was oriented towards mystical devotion rather than sectarian militancy. From his Jain preceptor Raychandbhai he learned the virtues of austerity and non-violence. His upbringing was ecumenical; so, too, was his personal orientation. He had close Muslim friends in school, and even closer Jewish and Parsi friends while working in South Africa. For most of his adult life his best friend was a practising Christian priest, Charles Freer Andrews. If you admired Gandhi — as many Indians did — you called him ‘Bapu’ or ‘Gandhiji’. If you disliked Gandhi — as many other Indians did — you referred to him as ‘Mr Gandhi’ or ‘M.K. Gandhi’. It is a remarkable (if still little-known) fact that it was only Andrews who called Gandhi by his first name, ‘Mohan’.
Despite his lifelong interest in religious pluralism, Gandhi had not the leisure to work out a systematic treatise on the subject. There is no one text we can go to; rather, we have to deduce his theology from things he said or did at different times. From these scattered clues, it appears that Gandhi’s faith had five core components.
  • First, Gandhi rejected the idea that there was one privileged path to God.
  • Second, he believed that all religious traditions were an unstable mixture of truth and error.
  • From these two beliefs followed the third, which was that Gandhi rejected conversion and missionary work.
  • Fourth, Gandhi advocated that a human being should stick to the religion he or she was born into, and seek to improve its ‘truth content’.
  • Fifth, Gandhi encouraged inter-religious dialogue, so that individuals could see their faith in the critical reflections of another.

Gandhi once said of his own faith that he had “broaden[ed] my Hinduism by loving other religions as my own”. One of his notable innovations was the inter-faith prayer meeting, where texts of different religions were read and sung to a mixed audience. At an International Fellowship of Religions, held at Sabarmati in January 1928, he said, “We can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu, or if we are Mussalmans, not that a Hindu or a Christian should become a Mussalman, nor should we even secretly pray that anyone should be converted [to our faith], but our inmost prayer should be that a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim and a Christian a better Christian. That is the fundamental truth of fellowship.”
What does it mean to be a better Hindu, or Muslim, or Christian? The sacred texts of all religions have contradictory trends and impulses; sanctioning one thing, but also its opposite. Gandhi urged that we recover and reaffirm those trends that oppose violence and discrimination while promoting justice and non-violence. The Shankaracharyas claimed that untouchability was sanctioned by the Shastras; Gandhi answered that in that case the Shastras did not represent the true traditions of Hinduism. Islamic texts might speak of women in condescending or disparaging terms in one place and in terms of reverence and respect in another; surely a Muslim committed to justice would value the second above the first? Likewise, a Christian must privilege the pacifism of Jesus’s life above the passages in the Bible calling for revenge and retribution against people of other faiths.
For most human beings, their views on religion are relevant only to themselves, or at best to their friends and family. But Gandhi was a man in public life, a major political player in a very large and diverse country. How did his faith resonate with other individuals and groups in the India of his day? There were three groups of Indians that most vocally opposed Gandhi’s religious views.

  • First, there were the secular socialists, who saw Gandhi’s faith as superstition, as a throwback to a backward mediaeval age.
  • Second, there were the Muslim politicians, who saw his talk of inter-faith dialogue as a cloak and cover for his essentially Hindu interest.
  • Third, there were the radicals of his own religion, who saw Gandhi’s talk of inter-faith dialogue as a denial of the Hindu essence of the Indian nation. It was a member of this third tendency, Nathuram Godse, who murdered the Mahatma 60 years ago today.

Like the late 19th century, the early 21st century has also seen a renewal of an arrogant atheism on the one side and of religious bigotry on the other. Bookshops are awash with titles proclaiming that God does not exist; the streets are muddied and bloodied by battles and wars between competing fundamentalisms. Twenty-five years after I argued with him, I can see that Ramu Gandhi was even more right than he knew. One cannot, as the philosopher cautioned me, understand the Mahatma without paying proper attention to his religious beliefs and practices. But Gandhi’s faith was and is relevant not merely to himself. It may be of vital assistance in promoting peace and harmony between people who worship different Gods or no God at all. Back in 1919, while seeking to forge an entente cordiale between India’s two major religious groupings, Gandhi asked them to collectively take this vow:

“With God as witness we Hindus and Mahomedans declare that we shall behave towards one another as children of the same parents, that we shall have no differences, that the sorrows of each will be the sorrows of the other and that each shall help the other in removing them. We shall respect each other’s religion and religious feelings and shall not stand in the way of our respective religious practices. We shall always refrain from violence to each other in the name of religion.”

It only remains for me to add: what Gandhi asked of Hindus and Muslims in India in 1919 should be asked again of them today; asked also of Jews and Arabs in Palestine, of Hindus and Buddhists in Sri Lanka, and of Christians and Muslims in Europe, North America, West Asia and Africa. Ramachandra Guha Historian and author of India After Gandhi.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Last quadrant of the zodiac (Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces) are expressive of the stages of evolutionary journey

The Perception of Unity Lori Tompkins

. . . no real understanding of the zodiac is possible without a perception of its unity. The zodiac is a symbol, in its complete form, of the human consciousness. But as this is equal to the All, made in God’s image so to speak, we also find in the zodiac the answer to many enigmas about our universe. These, as well as the mysteries of human consciousness, can only be unraveled on the basis of a unity of vision, of a sense of wholeness, of integrality. - Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet, The Magical Carousel, Commentaries, p. 84

Thousands of books and websites have been written in our modern era discussing the art of astrology, offering readers insight into how to interpret the signs of the zodiac and how to interpret the various details of an astrological chart, whether it be a natal chart, a composite chart, a progressed chart, etc. What is absent, however, in all this information is the knowledge and the vision of the zodiac as a map of our individual and collective evolutionary journey – the journey by which the soul is born in time and space and embarks on a continuous and cohesive mission and destiny towards becoming fully realized in material creation.

The current practice of astrology, despite the fact that it can give seekers a sense of a greater order, purpose and connection with the macrocosm, is not a system of Gnosis. It is a fragmented system of partial knowledge interpreted through the limitations of the mind. The result is that it can take one only so far in the quest for Self and World Knowledge.
In order to begin to fathom the universal knowledge contained in the zodiac, it is necessary to see the zodiac as an evolutionary journey of the whole and all its parts - a journey that began with the spark of the Soul manifesting as inconscient Matter, then as Life, then as Life with Mental capacities, and then completes its journey with the full realization of Self, the full realization of Unity-Consciousness, and the full realization of Love. If the current extent of our limited and divisive mental capacities were the full fruit and epitome of the evolutionary journey, what a disappointing harvest that would be for all these billions and billions of years of progress.
In the late 1960’s Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet (hereafter referred to as Thea) saw the zodiac in terms of the individual and collective evolutionary journey, with the goal and promise of fully realizing divinity within material creation. This seeing came before she knew anything of the yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother of Pondicherry.
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) announced in the course of his revolutionary yoga, that there was to be another stage of evolution established on Earth, inclusive of yet superior to the previous stages accomplished. He acknowledged Matter, Life and Mind as preliminary stages towards a more complete fruition of consciousness which he called the Supermind or the Supramental Truth-Consciousness that would harmonize and fulfill the previous stages of evolution, establishing a golden age on Earth.
Soon after Thea saw and documented the true function, promise and use of the zodiac in her first book, The Magical Carousel, she became conscious of her role as a necessary third element of the Supramental Descent. Her role was to pick up where Sri Aurobindo and the Mother left off; and a portion of her allotted task was to establish the Supramental Vision of Time, to illuminate the method by which the Supramental consciousness would establish itself and be applicable to Earthly life. This she has done. This accomplishment has been honored and celebrated and revered by many seekers who intuit and recognize the magnitude of Gnosis that has been offered.
  • There has also been a predictable uproar amongst those who feel that the modern western and Vedic understanding of astrology is quite sufficient without Thea’s two cents added, and
  • amongst those who feel that after Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (1878-1973) passed, the Supramental Descent was well enough on its way and didn’t need any further element or additional knowledge, and
  • that even if it did need something more, it would not have anything to do with cosmology or astrology.
The Vedic Seers wrote sacred hymns (perhaps over 5,000 years ago) revering the circle of 360 and its twelve spokes. They asked, Who can comprehend its mysteries? Certain Vedic texts tell of the epic, eternal and heroic journey or sacrifice in which the recovery of the lost Sun is accomplished in the ninth and tenth months of the twelve month (twelve-rayed) year. Sri Aurobindo noted in The Secret of the Veda that the recovery of the Lost Sun was equivalent to the recovery of the Supramental Truth-Consciousness, and that the significance of the ninth and tenth months of the sacrifice (of the year) remained to be seen.

‘This victory is won in twelve periods of the upward journey, represented by the revolution of the twelve months of the sacrificial year, the periods corresponding to the successive dawns of a wider and wider truth, until the tenth month secures the victory . . . What may be the precise significance of the nine rays and the ten is a more difficult position which we are not yet in a position to solve. ’ – Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda

What remained to be seen was subsequently seen by Thea, who recognized that the ninth and tenth months of the Vedic sacrifice where identical to the ninth and tenth signs of the zodiacal year, Sagittarius and Capricorn, in which the higher knowledge of reality or Gnosis is introduced (Sagittarius), liberating the Light from the den of Scorpio (the 8th sign of the zodiac), and proceeding on towards the full realization of a divinized material creation (Capricorn).
Thea has understood that the signs of the last quadrant of the zodiac (Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces) are expressive of the stages of evolutionary journey in which the mental limitations, veils and ignorances of modern mankind are trumped by the establishment of higher faculties of being in the material creation (Capricorn - Sat), higher consciousness and force of action (Aquarius - Chit), and a higher Love (Pisces – Ananda). In this understanding, the last quadrant of the zodiac describes the goal toward which our souls and spirits, our bodies, our vital energies, our hearts and our minds strive through all circumstances, however consciously or unconsciously – the goal of enjoying a Gnostic life on Earth. In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo gives a remarkable description of such a life (such a destiny):

This would be the Gnostic life on earth, a manifestation or play of truth-conscious being, being grown aware of itself in all things, no longer lost to consciousness of itself, no longer plunged into a self-oblivion or a half-oblivion of its real existence brought about by absorption in form and action, but using form and action with a delivered spiritual power for its free and perfect self-expression, no longer seeking for its own lost or forgotten or veiled and hidden significance or significances, no longer bound, but delivered from inconscience and ignorance, aware of its own truths and powers, determining freely in a movement always concurrent and in tune in every detail with its supreme and universal Reality its manifestation, the play of its substance, the play of its consciousness, the play of its force of existence, the play of its delight of existence. – Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, ‘The Gnostic Being’, p. 1047

Some will herein be able to recognize immediately and be impressed and intrigued that the goals described and worked towards in the revolutionary Integral and Supramental Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, are also described in the ancient zodiac. Others may not see the correspondences or may not be impressed at all. For those who are intrigued, The Gnostic Circle: A Synthesis in the Harmonies of the Cosmos (1975), quoted below, will give you ample food to chew on. This book begins with a chapter entitled ‘Essential Purpose of the Study of Cosmic Harmonies’, which immediately attempts to raise the bar for the study of astrology far beyond its current heights. The bar is raised in both books, The Gnostic Circle and The Magical Carousel, so much so that it becomes clear to the reader that gaining a proper understanding of the zodiac is an essential (and unavoidable) step in our individual and collective progress towards manifesting a higher consciousness and a greater existence.

It can be understood that the more we progress toward a Truth-Consciousness, toward an existence which feeds on Truth, on Life, and not on Ignorance and Death, the greater will our possibilities be to understand the universal harmonies and then to directly translate them into the forms of material creation, thereby substituting ignorance with truth. Astrology and cosmic harmonies are born of Truth, and all that which does not correspond to this Truth is a part of the inferior existing planes which interfere with the manifestation of Truth.

As yet a wide gap exists between the essence of cosmic harmonies, the Ideal, and the planes of Earth life where the essence is to take root and flower. But it is known that we are in the Aquarian Age; we are passing through the portion of the Great Circle [the 25,920 year Precession of the Equinoxes] which corresponds precisely to the sign that rules astrology and the Ideal. Therefore, during our present Age we shall be engaged in lessening the gap between these two poles, in erasing the Ignorance and effacing the power of the interfering forces of falsehood. - Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet, The Gnostic Circle, pp. 7-8

The first fruits of Thea’s unified vision of the zodiac are found in The Magical Carousel written in March of 1970. In this book, reader is taken on a journey through the zodiac through the eyes of two children (Val and Pom-Pom) and thereby invited to witness anew the zodiac as a process by which the ‘mysteries of the evolution of the soul’ are revealed. In becoming aware of the eternal processes described in this visionary book, the doors to great mysteries of our present and past (and future) are rendered no longer occult … i.e. no longer hidden. And once these doors are open, the growing awareness of the rhythm, rhyme, harmonies and geometries of our own soul as it labors towards full expression and fruition is an awareness that indeed, step by step, replaces falsehood with truth.
A Summary of the 12 Signs of the Zodiac: Thea has agreed to allow me to web-publish her summaries of the twelve signs of the zodiac (as found at the end of The Magical Carousel) so that more students of astrology, cosmology, evolution, consciousness … more yogis . . . might find their way, amidst all that is published in the genres of astrology and evolutionary spirituality, to a more illumined view of the zodiac as a sacred evolutionary journey in time and space. Below are links to the summaries from The Magical Carousel in four sections.
  • The first section begins with an explanation of the zodiac and covers the first quarter of the zodiac – Aries, Taurus and Gemini.
  • The second section covers the second quarter of the zodiac – Cancer, Leo and Virgo.
  • The third section covers the third quarter of the zodiac – Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius and
  • the fourth section will cover fourth quadrant of the zodiac – Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.

Important Notes to the Reader: Even though the summaries are broken up into four section for easier viewing, they are meant to be read and understood in order, as a whole, as a continuity. The four sections/quadrants each correspond to a stage of evolution.

  • The first quadrant corresponds to Physical development,
  • the second quadrant to Vital development,
  • the third quadrant to Mental development, and
  • the fourth level to Spiritual development.

None of these stages (or signs within the stages) are independent of or isolated from the rest. They are a whole, just as the twelve months and the four season make up a whole year; and just as dawn, noon, dusk and midnight make up a whole day. The following image of the circle (found in ‘Mind in the Supramental Creation: The Mind of Light’, Vishaal Newsletter, Volume 0, Issue 1, December 1985) may assist the reader in visualizing the flow through the four quadrants of the zodiac. [Link to Image] In this image 0° Aries would fall at the far left, 0° Cancer at the nadir, 0° Libra at the far right and 0° Capricorn at the apex. For a more elaborate vision of the zodiac, see the Gnostic Circle (wherein the Zodiac and Enneagram are seen as cohesive whole).

Also, some of the summaries include the names of The Magical Carousel characters that will not be familiar to you with without having read the actual story. They will still offer an intelligible unified perception of the zodiac and a deeper essence of the meaning of the twelve signs. Obviously maximum benefit will come via reading the full adventures of Val and Pom-Pom and the more in-depth commentaries written by Thea nine years after she completed the original tale. But these links are meant simply to give readers a taste of Theas’s teachings on the true essence the Zodiac, an offering so that more seekers might develop a taste for a higher quality of knowledge. The links will also serve as an excellent quick-reference for those who have taken up the Journey and proceed to observe with greater and greater awareness the movements, patterns, rhythms and harmonies that develop through out the cycle of the year/s.
Lori Tompkins
Links (as found on The New Way Blog):

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sri Aurobindo divided psychospiritual development into 12 progressive stages

Notes From a Fellow Traveller Elliott S. Dacher, M.D.
author of Integral Health: The Path to Human Flourishing November 30, 2007 Life's Double Meaning
It is the meaning of all existence to live its highest possibility. For a plant this is to unfold its foliage, flower, or fruit, for a honeybee to produce its sweetest honey, and for humans it’s to flourish into our fullest humanity. As our most unique and profound human potential is to gain freedom from suffering and live a life of a enduring health, happiness, and wholeness, this endeavor and attainment is the primary meaning of human life.
At first thought, few of us would consider this as the primary meaning of our life - to live our unique and full human potential. And certainly this is not possible if we have not first acquired the basic material needs of survival and addressed debilitating disturbances of mind and body. So these latter two efforts are necessary preparations and groundwork that support and precede the movement towards life’s primary meaning. But if we stop, as we often do, when we attain material comfort, emotional security, and biological health we miss life’s true meaning. We may not know this, but its signs will be there.
Irrespective of the comfort we have gained, if we have not gone beyond this to achieve a far reaching health, wholeness, and happiness we will be left with a deep and persistent longing for something more. Unknowingly we try to fill this longing in many mistaken ways – grasping at outer pleasures, relationships, material gain, fame, name, and increasingly even medications. But none of these will quiet this subtle and persistent longing of the soul for a larger life and health.
We know this longing indirectly through a subtle and persistent anxiety, discontent, confusion, doubt, unresolved striving, and subtle dissatisfaction. There is an emptiness that does not leave us. When these hidden messages and misguided efforts fail to redirect us towards the primary meaning of life - the discovery of our greatest possibilities and the fulfillment of soul and spirit - these messages may become more overt in the form of mental distress and physical disease.
So the primary and first meaning of human life is integral development – the development of our full human potential. This is the development of all of our possibilities – psychospiritual, biological, relational, and worldy. In our time the force that underlies and drives all aspects of our development is the development of our psychospiritual or inner life. The full development of our inner life enhances our relationships, physical health, and interactions in the outer world. By developing our inner life we develop what is most uniquely human and emphasize the singular approach that can best assure a life that is free of suffering and fully alive.
This first central meaning of human life is the culmination of our longing and aspiration for the largest health and life that is available to us. It is a gradual and progressive development that brings us a profound health, happiness, wholeness, and peace. Accompanying and inseparable form the attainment of these human possibilities are a universal loving embrace and a compassion and concern for others. Together, these are the unique gifts of human life that will bestow the ultimate meaning on an individual life. This attainment is the proper destiny and perfection of a human life.
If we stop at our own development this in itself would be a great accomplishment, but it would not fulfill our complete destiny. The second meaning of life is to take what we have gained in our inner development and bring it back to day-to-day life – to heal our relationships and world as we have been healed within. This is the return back to worldly life. It is bringing our insightful understanding of the human condition - the futility of suffering and the possibility of a larger life health – to others. We know what is possible and our loving embrace and care, much as that of a mother for her child, naturally moves us towards serving life in a way that heals the human condition. We, having grown our own life, become healers for others.
Now of course we cannot wait until the final accomplishment in our own life – which is an ongoing process – to begin efforts to make this world a better place. We must begin where we are and grow our efforts outside in tandem with our inner development. We do so by cultivating patience, kindness, generosity, wisdom and care for others, and acting in accordance with these qualities – helping where we can and passing when we are not yet ready. To know what is most needed in a specific circumstance and match this with available skills requires wisdom and capacity. These take time to develop so we choose carefully where, how, and if we can be of help to others and to our world. As we grow more will be possible. Service to others motivated by loving-kindness and compassion is the second great meaning of life. This is an outer expression of our inner meaning. By being of service as healers to others and the world we unfold the second great potential and capacity of human existence.
In actuality these are not separate meanings. They are as inseparable as two sides of a piece of paper. Outer action is the natural and spontaneous expression of inner development. Inner development fuels meaningful outer actions and outer service catalyzes further inner development.
In summary the double meaning of life is to fully develop our human potential free of suffering and enriched by a sustained health, wholeness, and happiness. Simultaneously we attain the second great meaning of life by bringing what we have learned through inner development into the world -serving others and helping to create a healthier world. Stated as a single meaning, the meaning of life is to become all that we are as humans within and without – for ourselves first and after we gain wisdom and capacity for others as well.
When we recognize the great meanings of life and work to actualize them in our individual live all that we wish will in time come to us. Our longing will come to an end and a healthy and happy life assured. The great meaning of life once attained is like a wishing gem from which all else becomes possible. www. Posted at 02:43 PM Comments (0) TrackBack (0) 9:46 AM

Friday, January 18, 2008

The gospel of materialism is a vain and helpless creed

This preoccupation with life and matter is at the beginning right and necessary because the first step that man has to take is to know and possess this physical existence as well as he can by applying his thought and intelligence to such experience of it as his sense-mind can give to him; but this is only a preliminary step and, if we stop there, we have made no real progress: we are where we were and have gained only more physical elbow-room to move about in and more power for our mind to establish a relative knowledge and an insufficient and precarious mastery and for our life-desire to push things about and jostle and hustle around amid the throng of physical forces and existences. The utmost widening of a physical objective knowledge, even if it embrace the most distant solar systems and the deepest layers of the earth and sea and the most subtle powers of material substance and energy, is not the essential gain for us, not the one thing which it is most needful for us to acquire.
That is why the gospel of materialism, in spite of the dazzling triumphs of physical Science, proves itself always in the end a vain and helpless creed, and that too is why physical Science itself with all its achievements, though it may accomplish comfort, can never achieve happiness and fullness of being for the human race. Our true happiness lies in the true growth of our whole being, in a victory throughout the total range of our existence, in mastery of the inner as well as and more than the outer, the hidden as well as the overt nature; our true completeness comes not by describing wider circles on the plane where we began, but by transcendence.
It is for this reason that, after the first necessary foundation in life and matter, we have to heighten our force of consciousness, deepen, widen, subtilise it; we must first liberate our mental selves and enter into a freer, finer and nobler play of our mental existence: for the mental is much more than the physical our true existence, because we are even in our instrumental or expressive nature predominantly mind and not matter, mental much rather than physical beings. That growth into the full mental being is the first transitional movement towards human perfection and freedom; it does not actually perfect, it does not liberate the soul, but it lifts us one step out of the material and vital absorption and prepares the loosening of the hold of the Ignorance.
Our gain in becoming more perfect mental beings is that we get to the possibility of a subtler, higher and wider existence, consciousness, force, happiness and delight of being; in proportion as we rise in the scale of mind, a greater power of these things comes to us: our mental consciousness acquires for itself at the same time more vision and power and more subtlety and plasticity, and we are able to embrace more of the vital and physical existence itself, to know it better, to use it better, to give it nobler values, a broader range, a more sublimated action,—an extended scale, higher issues.
Man is in his characteristic power of nature a mental being, but in the first steps of his emergence he is more of the mentalised animal, preoccupied like the animal with his bodily existence; he employs his mind for the uses, interests, desires of the life and the body, as their servant and minister, not yet as their sovereign and master. It is as he grows in mind and in proportion as his mind asserts its selfhood and independence against the tyranny of life and matter, that he grows in stature.
  • On one side, mind by its emancipation controls and illumines the life and physicality;
  • on the other, the purely mental aims, occupations, pursuits of knowledge begin to get a value.

The mind liberated from a lower control and preoccupation introduces into life a government, an uplifting, a refinement, a finer balance and harmony; the vital and physical movements are directed and put into order, transformed even as far as they can be by a mental agency; they are taught to be the instruments of reason and obedient to an enlightened will, an ethical perception and an aesthetic intelligence: the more this can be accomplished, the more the race becomes truly human, a race of mental beings.

It is this perception of life that was put in front by the Greek thinkers, and it is a vivid flowering in the sunlight of this ideal that imparts so great a fascination to Hellenic life and culture. In later times this perception was lost and, when it came back, it returned much diminished, mixed with more turbid elements: the perturbation of a spiritual ideal imperfectly grasped by the understanding and not at all realised in the life's practice but present with its positive and negative mental and moral influences, and over against it the pressure of a dominant, an inordinate vital urge which could not get its free self-satisfied movement, stood in the way of the sovereignty of the mind and the harmony of life, its realised beauty and balance.
An opening to higher ideals, a greater range of life was gained, but the elements of a new idealism were only cast into its action as an influence, could not dominate and transform it and, finally, the spiritual endeavour, thus ill-understood and unrealised, was thrown aside: its moral effects remained, but, deprived of the sustaining spiritual element, dwindled towards ineffectivity; the vital urge, assisted by an immense development of physical intelligence, became the preoccupation of the race. An imposing increase of a certain kind of knowledge and efficiency was the first result; the most recent outcome has been a perilous spiritual ill-health and a vast disorder.
For mind itself is not enough; even its largest play of intelligence creates only a qualified half-light. A surface mental knowledge of the physical universe is a still more imperfect guide; for the thinking animal it might be enough, but not for a race of mental beings in labour of a spiritual evolution. Even the truth of physical things cannot be entirely known, nor can the right use of our material existence be discovered by physical Science and an outward knowledge alone or made possible by the mastery of physical and mechanical processes alone: to know, to use rightly we must go beyond the truth of physical phenomenon and process, we must know what is within and behind it.
For we are not merely embodied minds; there is a spiritual being, a spiritual principle, a spiritual plane of Nature. Into that we have to heighten our force of consciousness, to widen by that still more largely, even universally and infinitely, our range of being and our field of action, to take up by that our lower life and use it for greater ends and on a larger plan, in the light of the spiritual truth of existence.
Our labour of mind and struggle of life cannot come to any solution until we have gone beyond the obsessing lead of an inferior Nature, integralised our natural being in the being and consciousness, learned to utilise our natural instruments by the force and for the joy of the Spirit. Then only can the constitutional ignorance, the ignorance of the real build of our existence from which we suffer, change into a true and effective knowledge of our being and becoming. For what we are is spirit,—at present using mind predominantly, life and body subordinately, with matter for our original field but not our only field of experience; but this is only at present.
Our imperfect mental instrumentation is not the last word of our possibilities; for there are in us, dormant or invisibly and imperfectly active, other principles beyond mind and closer to the spiritual nature, there are more direct powers and luminous instruments, there is a higher status, there are greater ranges of dynamic action than those that belong to our present physical, vital and mental existence. These can become our own status, part of our being, they can be principles, powers and instruments of our own enlarged nature. But for that it is not enough to be satisfied with a vague or an ecstatic ascent into spirit or a formless exaltation through the touch of its infinities; their principle has to evolve, as life has evolved, as mind has evolved, and organise its own instrumentation, its own satisfaction. Then we shall possess the true constitution of our being and we shall have conquered the Ignorance. Page- 731 5:27 AM

Monday, January 14, 2008

Psychologists call it stereotyping. I call it Conformism

A beautiful wife, an obedient son, a caring mother, a good husband, a studious child… The list of such almost universally accepted adjective-noun combinations signifying desirable qualities goes on.

What I’m getting at is that you would readily associate the attribute with all the members of the group about which you are talking. You know what is the phenomenon exemplified by these phrases. The psychologists call it stereotyping. I call it Conformism.

Why don’t we men look for good wives instead of beautiful ones or for that matter smart, independent or a thousand other adjectives? Are we still stuck with the orthodox notions, when, due to the stifling environs, the only positive qualifier that women could hope to have was “beautiful”. Incidentally, ‘Orthodox’ was an adjective used for characterizing a dominant sect of Christianity and not traditional values, another example of conformist behavior. But I digress. Why are love marriages still frowned upon in India, divorces even more so? Widow re-marriage is heresy, widower remarriage almost as rare. What about Child marriage, did you say? Well what about it indeed. ‘They aren’t children anymore now, are they? Child marriage – the “tradition” of our elders’….you are told.

Well we sure are following blindly in our ancestors or at least someone’s ancestors in matters of such importance. Conformists. Definitely not. We are just respecting, and here I go using the holy word again, TRADITION. Or else could it be the classic Howard Roark “Copies in concrete of copies in wood of copies in stone” syndrome.

Questions, Questions and more Questions. Who has the answers? I don’t. I have my own problems and my own answers. You’ll have to do the same.

Have we suspended our thinking faculties, giving in to whoever has had the most recent chance to tell us why we are wherever we are? Maybe the Matrix is real, for all we know and care. Till the time I get my next cheque on time, who cares if it’s a dream world I’m living in, right?

Has there been any scientific invention of any consequence in the past half a century. The automobile, the Internal Combustion engine, the Atomic Bomb for god’s sake. What are the overriding scientific achievements of the second half of the 20th century? I hazard a guess on the reader’s behalf here, the Internet and Space Travel, the foundations of both of which were laid in the first half. The “new” products have started to become monotonously evolutionary, when the very basis of science was radicalism and Original Thought.

Who decides the standards that govern our lives? Do you. Think again. How much money is enough? How much success is enough? Can it ever be enough or is there a reverse vicious cycle at work? How did the animal called ‘society’ get absolute power over so many decisions of my life?
Any child who shows even the barest of promise is pushed to either medicine or engineering. Still how many disease cures or engineering innovations happen in India. Is the (in)famous “Brain Drain” phenomenon just a function of money and material comforts? Would it not be better if we just leave them to their own devices and try to sort out the direction OUR lives are taking.

No two persons in this world are alike. Yet our education system is inexorably moving towards a 1984-ish assembly line producing unthinking robots who do what they are told to or whatever it is that his peers are doing. Another brick in the wall? Not me. I’m here to forward my learning. What’s that term……Ah!, Value Addition. Right. That’s why I’m here.

We are taught to follow the crowd, to embrace the values of someone else who was smart enough to preach them. When we don't understand, we turn to our assumptions, only on this case they are someone else’s. Why has there been no public outcry against the proposed rural employment scheme – the biggest money for loot program instituted in the history of India. We don’t understand the merit in it, but we are taught that whatever the government does benefits the whole country in the long run.

Let us go deeper into the meanings of a very simple word in the English language, “Good”. Here conformism comes out with all its power and is still safely ensconced out of sight. A sort of Krishna’s Divyadarshan. You know the one in Mahabharat where he comes and display’s his divine image, one so bright that nobody is able to catch a glimpse much less understand!!!
Can a child who does well in sports or plays a musical instrument well or reads a lot of books etc ever have the good fortune of being called good? No it is a very specific quality, being studious, that’s going to earn him that accolade. The others are the scum of this earth, Aye.
What are the qualities necessary for a girl being called a “good” wife. Independence, Intelligence, Professionalism, Love. Nah. Again a specific quality, being domesticated, merits the absolute adjective.

Ever heard of a word called Euphemism. The mere presence of such a word in the language signifies the deep roots of Conformism. When enough people have shown their backs to things like taking initiative or being accountable or worse still honesty to merit coining a new word. This is a word which tells me how badly people want to belong. How they don’t want to upset the applecart or even seem to be.

Ever observed that every male writer use ‘his’ when he is giving an example. Case in point being myself…I guess not. Who taught us this. Or does conformism go far deeper than you and I think?

I won’t attempt to answer any of these questions. Rather, want to put them to the whole community to see if they have any answers for me. Even if you don’t, at least keep the questions in mind. The right questions are harder to come by than the right answers.
Next Article: Eastern Mysticism and Modern Life Kushagra is a PGP II student of the 41st batch. This is his first contribution to IMZine. Thanks, Kushagra! Editor Speak Team Contribute Feedback IIM Calcutta Our Archive © IMZine - Indian Institute of Management Calcutta 2002-2007

Nasty habit of always putting the self on the side of the angels

The Moral Instinct By STEVEN PINKER The Times Magazine: January 13, 2008
Our heads can be turned by an aura of sanctity, distracting us from a more objective reckoning of the actions that make people suffer or flourish. It seems we may all be vulnerable to moral illusions the ethical equivalent of the bending lines that trick the eye on cereal boxes and in psychology textbooks. Illusions are a favorite tool of perception scientists for exposing the workings of the five senses, and of philosophers for shaking people out of the naïve belief that our minds give us a transparent window onto the world (since if our eyes can be fooled by an illusion, why should we trust them at other times?).
Today, a new field is using illusions to unmask a sixth sense, the moral sense. Moral intuitions are being drawn out of people in the lab, on Web sites and in brain scanners, and are being explained with tools from game theory, neuroscience and evolutionary biology.
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them,” wrote Immanuel Kant, “the starry heavens above and the moral law within.”
These days, the moral law within is being viewed with increasing awe, if not always admiration. The human moral sense turns out to be an organ of considerable complexity, with quirks that reflect its evolutionary history and its neurobiological foundations...
Moral vegetarians avoid meat for ethical reasons: to avoid complicity in the suffering of animals. By investigating their feelings about meat-eating, Rozin showed that the moral motive sets off a cascade of opinions. Moral vegetarians are more likely to treat meat as a contaminant — they refuse, for example, to eat a bowl of soup into which a drop of beef broth has fallen. They are more likely to think that other people ought to be vegetarians, and are more likely to imbue their dietary habits with other virtues, like believing that meat avoidance makes people less aggressive and bestial.
Much of our recent social history, including the culture wars between liberals and conservatives, consists of the moralization or amoralization of particular kinds of behavior. Even when people agree that an outcome is desirable, they may disagree on whether it should be treated as a matter of preference and prudence or as a matter of sin and virtue. Rozin notes, for example, that smoking has lately been moralized. Until recently, it was understood that some people didn’t enjoy smoking or avoided it because it was hazardous to their health. But with the discovery of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, smoking is now treated as immoral. Smokers are ostracized; images of people smoking are censored; and entities touched by smoke are felt to be contaminated (so hotels have not only nonsmoking rooms but nonsmoking floors). The desire for retribution has been visited on tobacco companies, who have been slapped with staggering “punitive damages.”
At the same time, many behaviors have been amoralized, switched from moral failings to lifestyle choices. They include divorce, illegitimacy, being a working mother, marijuana use and homosexuality. Many afflictions have been reassigned from payback for bad choices to unlucky misfortunes...
Morality, then, is still something larger than our inherited moral sense, and the new science of the moral sense does not make moral reasoning and conviction obsolete. At the same time, its implications for our moral universe are profound.
At the very least, the science tells us that even when our adversaries’ agenda is most baffling, they may not be amoral psychopaths but in the throes of a moral mind-set that appears to them to be every bit as mandatory and universal as ours does to us. Of course, some adversaries really are psychopaths, and others are so poisoned by a punitive moralization that they are beyond the pale of reason. (The actor Will Smith had many historians on his side when he recently speculated to the press that Hitler thought he was acting morally.)
But in any conflict in which a meeting of the minds is not completely hopeless, a recognition that the other guy is acting from moral rather than venal reasons can be a first patch of common ground. One side can acknowledge the other’s concern for community or stability or fairness or dignity, even while arguing that some other value should trump it in that instance. With affirmative action, for example, the opponents can be seen as arguing from a sense of fairness, not racism, and the defenders can be seen as acting from a concern with community, not bureaucratic power. Liberals can ratify conservatives’ concern with families while noting that gay marriage is perfectly consistent with that concern.
The science of the moral sense also alerts us to ways in which our psychological makeup can get in the way of our arriving at the most defensible moral conclusions. The moral sense, we are learning, is as vulnerable to illusions as the other senses. It is apt to confuse morality per se with purity, status and conformity. It tends to reframe practical problems as moral crusades and thus see their solution in punitive aggression. It imposes taboos that make certain ideas indiscussible. And it has the nasty habit of always putting the self on the side of the angels.
Though wise people have long reflected on how we can be blinded by our own sanctimony, our public discourse still fails to discount it appropriately. In the worst cases, the thoughtlessness of our brute intuitions can be celebrated as a virtue... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the author of “The Language Instinct” and “The Stuff ofThought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature.” Video Interview With Steven Pinker ( RelatedBlogrunner: Reactions From Around the Web

A cardinal belief in science is that there is order in the universe. God was seen more as a ‘guarantor’ for this very order

Corporate Jungle Cabinet of Wealth Impressions Diatribe Culture Shop Spellbound- St. Gallens- The Religious Roots of Modern Science 9/26/2005

The science that most of us know of today can be more appropriately termed as ‘modern science’; distinct from other ancient systems of science that were specific to civilizations. Modern science as a knowledge system took birth and grew in Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries A.D, in a historical process now called the Scientific Revolution. The Scientific Revolution gave direction to the practice of science and shaped the content, characteristics and the methods of science. People well versant with history would realize that the Scientific Revolution took place in a period of great social, religious and intellectual ferment in Europe. The most significant of events that had a direct bearing on the Scientific Revolution was the Reformation- the historical event in Christianity that led to the split in the Catholic Church and thereby to the birth of Protestantism. For the sake of brevity, the relationship between the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution is not being elaborated upon. It would suffice to say that the Reformation resulted in the weakening of the Church’s hold over scientific discourse that ultimately led (or should have led) to the ‘secularization’ of science a few centuries down the line.

One of the drivers for the growth of science at that point of time was the emphasis on rationality- the precedence of the human power of reasoning in explaining natural occurrences. Never before was the human ability to reason and come up with explanations more important. The nature and process of reasoning could be different. Men like Rene Descartes were supporters of rationalism (the pure and unadulterated use of the capability of the human mind to reason) whereas Francis Bacon was one of the key proponents of empiricism (with its emphasis on observation and experimentation to arrive at results). Nevertheless, both had their takers and did contribute to the development of knowledge at that point of time. As a result, the great scientific laws that we continue to use to this day were primarily products of human reason.

In spite of all this emphasis on reason and its contribution to the growth of science, are there some aspects of science that aren’t amenable to reason? Philosophers have long argued that the main objectives of science were to seek certainty in an uncertain world, to seek order in chaos and to control what is uncontrollable. Underlying these objectives are certain beliefs in science. To the uninitiated, it may appear that beliefs or faith in a knowledge system like science is essentially contradictory. But these beliefs still hold good and are an integral part of science. Among them are the belief that there is order in the universe (without which it would be pointless to seek it), that there is regularity in the events that occur in nature (so that there can be some certainty in our study of it), and finally the law of causality, a cause leading to an effect, exists (without which no amount of control can be exercised). These beliefs do have deep implications as far as the practice of science is concerned.

The relationship between science and religion is very complex and probably carries many more such contradictions. At the outset it must be acknowledged that the line between religion and science hardly existed before the Scientific Revolution. All knowledge came under the ambit of natural philosophy and still earlier, under natural theology. As mentioned earlier, the Church actively controlled scientific discourse and saw it as an extension of religious knowledge. The content of scientific thoughts had to confirm to religious beliefs. Keeping this in mind, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that science had a base in religious thought. In fact, the chasm between science and religion that is supposed to exist, is characteristic of the post Revolution era.

On the surface, the contradictions between religion and science stand out conspicuously On the one hand, there is science; the ultimate proof for the triumph of man’s ability to question and reason. On the other there is religion; the oldest repository of dogmatic beliefs and practices, ignorance and the like. There is also historical evidence that indicate (only superficially though) the clashes between science and religion as institutions. The story of Galileo Galilee’s (the mathematician and astronomer of the 17th century A.D) life is one such example. The ‘confrontationist’ model of the relationship between science and religion has its roots in such arguments.

Ironically, it is the practice of science that often leads it to issues that have come under the ambit of religion. In the relentless pursuit of questioning and finding reasons for natural occurrences, science often confronts a dead end. It would almost seem that answers to certain questions simply don’t exist in the ambit of science. Historically such questions have related to the creation of the universe, the origin of life on earth, the evolution of species and the like. Even at a higher, philosophical level there are questions that science has grappled with but failed to give answers. Some of them relate to the purpose of life and the realities of life in nature. Many people refer to these as the ‘why’ questions-why are things as they are? Interestingly for all the sets of questions mentioned above, religion has traditionally had its own answers. So how does science confront this? Can it wholly reject these answers (provided by religion) in spite of its own inability to answer the questions?

Religion has used the very powerful conception of a ‘God’ to answer many profound questions. The recourse to a supernatural force, beyond human comprehension, to find answers has occurred throughout history. In fact, for all the advances in science in the last few centuries the hold of this conception of a ‘God’ over human imagination has continued unabated. The interesting question to look into is how did science tackle (and continues to) this phenomenon of a ‘God’. Scientists have often used the concept of ‘God’ (not in the strict religious sense) as reinforcement for some of their scientific beliefs. As mentioned earlier, a cardinal belief in science is that there is order in the universe. God was seen more as a ‘guarantor’ for this very order. God was a concept that would ensure that there was no chaos in the universe, failing which science would cease to have much meaning. It should be noted that the belief in such a God was different from the religious conception wherein God was seen as an all powerful controlling force in the universe. Nevertheless, the important thing here is that the purpose for invoking a ‘God’ in scientific pursuits was necessitated.

Another example for this recourse to a ‘God’ in scientific work is the “God-in-the-gaps argument. According to this any ‘gaps’ that occurred because of the inability of science to provide explanations was attributed to ‘God’. In a sense God as a concept could stand in for the lack of scientific concepts. Given the line of reasoning that most scientific arguments follow, such recourse would seem patently unscientific. Nevertheless it has been regularly invoked over the centuries.

Probably the best indicator of the close relationship between science and religion lies in the scientific beliefs and works of some of the greatest men of science. It is interesting to note that most men of science (to this day) were in one way or another, deeply religious men. It is indeed hard to come up with the name of one great scientist who was also an atheist. The case of Issac Newton (arguably one of the greatest scientists ever, along with Einstein) is the best possible example to offer. To a man like Newton, scientific pursuit was inseparable from an absolute belief in God. To him, scientific work was one of the means of glorifying God and his mastery over the universe. It was God’s presence that guaranteed universality to a person like Newton. In short it is impossible to see Newton’s scientific work in isolation fro his religious beliefs.

Because of the great advances that science has made in the last few centuries, it is not particularly hard to see it in isolation from its roots in religion. But it is necessary to move away from the confrontationist model between science and religion. It must be realized that religion can indeed serve as an inspiration for the pursuit of science (like it did for Newton) and can play a role in mitigating some of the excesses of modern science and ultimately in enriching the spirit of scientific discovery.

Next Article: Freedom and Self-responsibility as an Individual and Societal Challenge
Aditya Parthasarthy is a 42nd batch student of IIM Calcutta. Editor Speak Team Contribute Feedback IIM Calcutta Our Archive © IMZine - Indian Institute of Management Calcutta 2002-2007

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Humanities for the humanities’ sake, is a rather old and one-sided ideology

5. January 7th, 2008 1:09 am Art for art’s sake,
or, as the case proposed here, humanities for the humanities’ sake, is a rather old and one-sided ideology, but if we all were to adopt it, life certainly would become easier for Professor Fish, since there would be no way to evaluate the work of any humanist, except by his or her own standards, and even those standards would be reduced to the standards of the professional status quo. — Posted by RJ
10. January 7th, 2008 1:48 am Where to begin?
Stanley Fish’s argument is predicated upon an artificial distinction between “The Humanities” on the one hand and “The Sciences” on the other. One is useless, the other is useful. One acts only upon itself, the other acts upon the world.
These sorts of distinctions may exist on college websites and in faculty phone books, but a single moment of honest reflection will show just how baseless they are in the real world. The obvious truth is that the philosophers Fish so casually denigrates make important contributions to the sciences all the time (for example, Merleau-Ponty and neuro-cognition, Wittgenstein and mathematics, etc.)
And just as obviously, the hard sciences have had a profound impact on the humanities. Advances in biology, physics, and astronomy have prompted poets, philosophers, and historians to radically re-evaluate man and his relationship with the world, (Elliot, Van Gogh, and Weber leap to mind).
And as if evidence for this trans-disciplinary conversation weren’t obvious enough, there’s an entire branch of the American academy EXPLICITLY devoted to the moments where the humanities and the sciences meet: they’re called the social sciences and they’re pretty important. Political science, economics, sociology, anthropology…any of this ringing a bell, Fish? Since your a professor of law, perhaps you can explain to me how your profession — how the very NOTION of modern law — is feasible without some section of the population committed to teaching and studying the “humanities”.
Fish’s analysis of the humanities, and his selective use of examples, reduces art, history, and philosophy to mere entertainments — to innocent diversions best left to the naive graduate student or the nostalgic retiree. Fish ought to know better. This sort of writing is unbecoming of Fish and beneath the New York Times. — Posted by Jeffrey Sachs