Friday, September 26, 2008

Divine ease is not about life being a breeze, but a strong belief in goodness, truth, intelligence and beauty

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As life becomes more fraught personally and globally, it's easy to forget that still we remain powerful beyond belief. We exercise our innate power by continuing to invite the sacred into everything we do - at work - at - home - with friends - out shopping - when driving the car. Sacred practice is about inviting the most life-enhancing possibilities into each moment - soul people - soul food - soul pursuits. We do these things not as indulgences, but to bring each and every unique part of us alive - so we can not only be alive to the moment, but to the many solutions that await our attention.

When we get lost in despair, we block ourselves off from these wider resources, our vision narrows and life becomes progressively more difficult. We lose the divine ease with which we were endowed on incarnation.

Divine ease is not about life being a breeze, but about learning to step through the good times and those that stretch us, with a strong belief in goodness, truth, intelligence and beauty. As Dr Clarissa Estes, author of Women Who Run With The Wolves recently admitted -

'I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here.'

We are co-creators of our human experience for the few short years we are here. As you start to consider what are you seeking to create for yourself and others, you may wish to log on to this site, March 2005

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Zizek is right to suggest that Stalin was morally superior to Hitler

More electoral ruminations from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro

Thus, the Democrats’ hypocrisy is to be preferred to the Republicans’ cynicism, for good Kantian reasons (though Zizek would probably give Hegelian ones instead). As Kant famously said about the French Revolution, no matter how much this uprising might have “miscarried” or been “filled with misery and atrocities,” nonetheless any decent human being, observing the events of the Revolution from afar, would have to be caught up in “a wishful participation that borders closely on enthusiasm”; the sheer fact of this “sympathy,” despite everything that goes wrong in actuality, itself testifies to “a moral predisposition in the human race.” In other words, the sheer fact that something like the French Revolution could occur, no matter how badly it went wrong subsequently, gives us a legitimate ground for hoping that human beings are not forever subject to the Hobbesian alternative of either continual war of all against all, or severe and violent repression...

there was an essential moral difference between Stalin and Hitler. Zizek condemns the currently fashionable habit of lumping Stalin and Hitler together as totalitarian dictators. The difference, as in the Presidential race today, has to do with hypocrisy. Stalin professed support for human rights like free speech, for self-determination, for peace, and for harmony and equality among individuals and peoples regardless of race, ethnicity, etc.; all these principles are enshrined in the Soviet Constitution of the 1930s. Of course, in fact Stalin was a megalomaniacal tyrant who ruled arbitrarily, violated all of these ideals, and put millions of people to death; but Zizek is entirely right to suggest that such hypocrisy is morally superior, and far to be preferred, to Hitler’s overtly racist and anti-democratic ideology — which he unhypocritically put into practice. It’s for this reason that American Communists of the 1930s-1950s (observers of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath from afar, just as Kant was an observer of the French Revolution from afar) are far more honorable and decent (for all their ludicrous idolization of Stalin and sleazy maneuvers against other factions on the left) than the anti-Communists of the same period.

In recent years, and especially in the weeks following McCain’s selection of Palin, conservatives have excoriated liberals for, basically, thinking that conservatives are stupid, and that stupidity is the only explanation for why anybody would, say, be enthusiastic about Palin. And I think that the conservatives who argue in this manner are somewhat correct — at least to the extent that, as I’ve said before, many liberals’ scorn for Palin has prevented them from seeing the great appeal she has, affectively, to large segments of the electorate...

[ADDENDUM: The irony, though, is that I am mourning, not the failure of some grand hope, but rather merely the continued frustration of a hope that, even in "victory," would not have been fulfilled. I am mourning, in advance, the failure of a failure. Such is the depressive postmodernist condition: in comparison, even something like Walter Benjamin's melancholia seems like the most lurid optimism, a grand modernist gesture that we cannot believe in any longer. But it is precisely in such a situation that Kant's injunction, that we must believe in, and have hope for, the prospect of an improvement of the human condition even in the face of all empirical evidence for the contrary. Our deepest moral obligation is to be faithful to this hope, even though its fulfillment cannot be foreseen, and even though it is something that can be promised "only indefinitely and as a contingent event."]

[2ND ADDENDUM: I fear that I am beginning to sound like late Derrida, with all his words about infinite deferral, democracy to come, etc. I can only repeat what I have said before; that essentially Derrida's thought is a minor, but honorable, footnote to Kant.] This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 at 11:58 am and is filed under Politics.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Series of sorries: Bruno, Galileo, and Darwin

Sorrier than thou TOI 20 Sep 2008, Mukul Sharma

Church officials, Christian theologians and the Vatican in particular have been doing a lot of apologising of late. It's for past errors and excesses committed in the name of religion and includes the Inquisition, persecution of Jews, the Nazi holocaust, comments that appear to link Islam with violence and for child abuse by priests. However, nowhere has this series of sorries been more forthcoming than in the field of science.

  • It began with Giordano Bruno, the 16th century Italian philosopher who was burnt at the stake for saying the Sun, and not the Earth, was the centre of the solar system. In March 2000, Pope John Paul II issued a document that "regretted" it had resor-ted to violence in Bruno's case and his burning was "deplored".
  • Then in the 17th century Galileo, who also advocated the Copernican model, was forced to recant by the Inquisition under threat of torture and put under house arrest for his last years. In 1992, the Vatican apologised and admitted the great astronomer, apparently, "had a point".
  • The most recent is Darwin, the 19th century naturalist who was attacked by the church for disagreeing with the ‘Book of Genesis' and saying that all species had evolved from a common ancestor. A recent essay by the Rev Malcolm Brown, a senior clergyman and the church's head of public affairs in the United Kingdom says the Church of England "owes" an apology to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution when it was first published and making errors over its reaction to it. A full-blown mea culpa should be hopping along any day now.

The point to note here, though, is that the apologies are coming not only thicker but also faster so that a time may soon come when they might even catch up backwards with the concerned crime. And considering that at any given time there is at least one major active battle going on between the church and science, this may not be a bad idea for both parties.

For instance, there's homosexuality. Is it sinful, chosen, changeable, unnatural and abnormal for everyone? Or is it morally neutral, predetermined, natural and normal for a minority of people? If it turns out to be the latter — bingo — that's one more apology in the in-box. There's abortion too. A hundred years from now if scientists discover the soul actually enters the foetus exactly after 26 weeks then another very very sorry would be up for grabs. And one more when time travel's discovered and they go back and take Bishop Ussher who said the age of the Earth was only 6,000 years, to 200 million BC and leave him in a real Jurassic Park.

Actually in order to avoid any more embarrassment or moral fumbling in the future it might be an even better idea to just apolo-gise in advance for everything scientific the church stands for. For it is a fact that the results of most modern empirical inquiry are always going to be at loggerheads with antiquated notions of how the world works. And also because Christianity is not like some other eastern religions which even when science exposes a particularly cherished belief of theirs as pure poppycock, still bash on mindlessly as if nothing had happened.

What's more, if they did trump the scientific community this way, no one would have to look silly later since others would not be able to point any accusing fingers at them. Of course, it goes without saying this means they would also have to give up on lost causes and losing battles instead of brawling around in there to the bitter end and generally getting all bloodied and bombed out before retreating.

But look at it this way; in times to come people of other religions will talk with envy and awe about how great Christianity turned out to be. After all, it takes a lot of courage to admit you're wrong — especially beforehand — thereby proving that hindsight is not the only thing more perfect than science. Foresight is too.


I am not attempting to "Aurobindo-ize" Christianity." Why Darwinists Reject Evolution from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob Sep 17, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Taylor's vision of authentic religion found in communion rooted in love

Bellah on Taylor and Authentic Christianity in a Secular Age
from Mirror of Justice by Russell Powell

The newest issue of Commonweal, in addition to our own Mark Sargent's insightful review of The Trillion Dollar Meltdown (which takes on even greater relevance given the most recent bank and insurance failures), contains a provocative article by Robert Bellah in which he engages key ideas from Charles Taylor's A Secular Age. Instead of emphasizing the historical fact of secularism, he focuses on Taylor's vision of authentic religion that engages those formed in a culture of secularism. According to Taylor, this authenticity is found in communion rooted in love.

At the heart of orthodox Christianity, seen in terms of communion, is the coming of God through Christ into a personal relation with disciples, and beyond them others, eventually ramifying through the church to humanity as a whole. God establishes the new relation with us by loving us, in a way we cannot unaided love one another. [We love because he first loved us, 1 John 4:19.] The lifeblood of this new relation is agape [the biblical Greek word for love], which can’t ever be understood simply in terms of a set of rules, but rather as the extension of a certain kind of relation, spreading outward in a network. The church is in this sense a quintessentially network society, even though of an utterly unparalleled kind, in that the relations are not mediated by any historical forms of relatedness: kinship, fealty to a chief, or whatever. It transcends all these, but [is rather] a network of ever different relations of agape.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The universe isn't chaotic but is full of patterns and structures, coherences and relationships

To Applaud the Large Hadron Collider Science, Culture and Integral Yoga
by RY Deshpande on Sun 14 Sep 2008 06:51 AM PDT Permanent Link

Great things were done in the past and man’s history had never been dull—and this was in spite of war and struggle and rampage. Surely there is something in him which always prompts him to search and express that which lies beyond his immediate reach as if the charm of the beyond is ever beckoning him. He has built schools of thought, he has built monuments, he has built centres of excellence in arts and sciences and crafts. He gave Philosophy, he gave the Tao, he gave Vedanta, he gave Religion, even as he engaged himself in secular occupations in many richnesses of life. It is that in him which pleases us and pleases the gods too. Thus he opened out for himself fields and fields of noble activity. Today we witness some other kind of marvel...

In this march of glorious history today we witness another remarkable event speaking for the widening spirit of man. But for this to happen cruel and spiteful battles were fought and prices paid to the unappeased gods. In the 17th century Galileo, the Father of Modern Science, had to suffer for the daring act of holding views about the heliocentric world contrary to what was believed in those days. The Catholic Church prohibited its advocacy and Galileo was eventually forced to recant his ideas. He spent the last years of his life under house arrest on orders of the Inquisition. He did, but also softly blurted out what he thought to be scientific and hence right.

But the Spirit of Man moves on.

And today! Wednesday 10 September 2008! It is a golden day in the annals of physics. It marks the beginning of a new set of experiments planned on a scale that never happened in the long and troubled days of mankind. Their findings are expected to throw light on the commencement and evolution of the universe in which we live. If matter is the foundation of this vast enterprise, then it becomes our natural curiosity also to know what really is there in matter that makes it so attractive, so potentially rich to give rise to this marvel of creation...

Two things that bolster our faith in science are the comprehensibility of the universe and the well-understood laws of nature that will not dupe us on the way, will not betray us mid-stream. Einstein famously said that "the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible". The universe isn't chaotic but is full of patterns and structures, coherences and relationships. It is to discover these patterns and structures, these coherences and relationships that we are willing to hold out a mighty bit of us. That is the search for truth prompting the scientist as a truth-seeker; that is the search for beauty persuading the scientist as a beauty-admirer. And the beautiful truth is, society is willing to give him that exceptional privilege—and that indeed is the truthful beauty of man.

Yet one could be screaming about the kind of costs involved in these truth-beauty pursuits which can no longer be private, not even single or national pursuits. But there is really no paradox. The inherent fuzziness of the Quantum world governed by the Uncertainty Principle means that to the finer and more subtle depths you go the more you pay for things. We have to sharpen our tools. But these are fructuous in more than one way. Witness for instance the Internet that came from such occupations. CERN itself had the privilege of giving us the World Wide Web...

But connected with this praiseworthy gigantic effort there are also a few spurious and dubious aspects and these aspects must be at once dismissed from our minds. We must first realize that the beginning of the universe from the big bang is a scientific theory and it is science which is going to judge it in terms of scientific criteria and parameters. Whether it is going to be upheld or is going to collapse,—well, it is science which will have the say in the matter and nothing else. There is a hurried tendency of the Vedantic mind connecting the big bang with the bursting of the cosmic egg, brahmāņda. But they are not on a par in several respects. For instance, brahmāņda is not going to collapse if Hadron Collider is going to dismiss the big bang. And then, and more importantly, one is a theory and the other an occult-spiritual experience. They belong to different categories and we must not mix them up.

But this mixing-up game was started in a rather bad manner some thirty years ago by Fritjof Capra when his Tao of Physics intriguingly mesmerized both communities, the scientific and the Vedantic. For instance, he writes: “Quantum theory forces us to see the universe not as a collection of physical objects, but rather as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of a unified whole.”

But what that “unified whole” really is, he does not define if it is not a physical object. Instead, he jumps to compare it with the eastern mysticism experiencing the world. Capra immediately quotes from Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga: “The material object… something different from what we now see, not a separate object on the background or in the environment of the rest of Nature, but an indivisible part and even in a subtle way an expression of the unity of all that we see.” ...

To compare what is interpreted of an observation based on the physical instruments with the direct observation by the supramentalised seeing, by supramental samjñāna, is the typical mix-up we see in the Capraisque formulations. Not that there cannot be correspondences between the two, but nowhere can the images or reflections or simulacra acquire the quality of realities not only of the spiritual but also the material objects seen by this samjñāna. There is a similar leap of imagination in Capra to equate the Dance of Shiva with the behaviour of the subatomic particles, their materialization-dematerialization described by the Quantum Physics, creation-annihilation forming a part of the cosmic rhythms of the God, the King-Dancer, Nataraj.

No wonder, under such an influence the India’s Department of Atomic Energy gifted on 18 June 2004 a two-metre bronze statue of the Nataraj to CERN. This was to celebrate India’s participation in the Collider experiments. This is good,—as far as it goes. But never should either of them lose sight of the fundamentals, their fundamentals, the spiritual and the material. If one is the breathing in and breathing out of the physical in the cosmic process of objectification, the other is the rhythm of the timeless set into the great movements of time. One is mental conceptualization and the other the truth-dynamism set into motion by the Spirit itself. Here our interest is not in mysticism but in physics proper, professional physics. So, as far as the Large Hadron Collider is concerned, let us applaud the startup operation and eagerly wait for the arrival of the Higgs Boson. It is a definite pointer towards what will give materiality to matter, substantiality to substance.

Keywords: Vedanta, Tools, Supermind, Studies, SriAurobindo, Spirituality, Mysticism, LHC, History, HiggsBoson, Heisenberg, Hawking, Einstein, DarkMatter, Culture, Creation, Cosmology, BigBang, Athens, Antimatter

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Mother’s vision was a vision of unity

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 37, Dated Sept 20, 2008 CURRENT AFFAIRS opinion
City Of The Dawn
Auroville is the laboratory for experiments that will contribute to human welfare
MARK TULLY Chairman, International Advisory Committee, Auroville
The Mother’s vision - Worshippers before a picture of The Mother

AUROVILLE IS the future in the making, a work in progress. The aims The Mother set for it are so lofty they may, in my view, never be achieved, but who can deny that “to realise human unity in diversity” is an aim worth working for? Aurovilians are doing just that but they are human, and we humans are frail creatures; so inevitably they have faced and still do face difficulties, and indeed, from time to time, failure. Because we humans are diverse we have our differences, and Aurovillians, who set out to be diverse, have theirs too. Over the last four years I have visited Auroville regularly as Chairman of the International Advisory Committee and I have come to know of difficulties, and heard different opinions on many issues, but I have also seen the progress that has been made towards achieving The Mother’s ideals and the potential for the future.

Ever since it was founded 40 years ago, Auroville has been trying to realise The Mother’s vision by attracting a wide diversity of people to live together as Aurovilians. People from 35 different nations now live in Auroville. Because it is very much an Indian city — The Mother herself stressed that — I believe it is absolutely right that a substantial proportion of the population, one-third, is Indian. There is no other country in the world I can think of which would have allowed Auroville to be established on its soil, and most Aurovillians acknowledge this with gratitude. A BBC reporter recently suggested that Auroville had ambitions to be a Vatican City but this was firmly denied by the Auroville organisation which liaises with the press.

Aurovilians are keen to increase their numbers, and a serious attempt is being made now to provide the housing which will be necessary if the population is to expand. Of course, the city must grow carefully, it must be sure that anyone who applies to be an Aurovilian shares the Mother’s vision. But the net does need to be cast more widely if Auroville is to be a truly global city. There are, for instance, so far no Aurovilleans from Africa.

Although small in number, Aurovillians have converted their city from a barren wasteland into a forest containing many native species which had disappeared from the area. It is the most remarkable afforestation I’ve seen in all my years in India. They themselves have also constructed the meditation centre that Mother said should be at the heart of the city. Called the Matrimandir, it’s a great golden sphere, reminding me of the rising sun, and symbolising the birth of the new consciousness Sri Aurobindo saw as the next stage in the adventure of evolution. The Matrimandir is regarded as an outstanding example of modern architecture in India.

Auroville has also become a laboratory for experiments that will contribute to human welfare. There are successful schools which continue to experiment, there are ventures in alternative energy, alternative building materials and architecture, organic farming, land reclamation, and many other fields. Afforestation continues and Aurovillians have developed their own botanical garden, one of Auroville’s resource centres for schools in the area. Some Auroville ventures have developed into commercial successes.

After seeing much, but by no means all, of Auroville’s work, and after many meetings with Aurovilians I have come to admire their commitment to The Mother’s vision and their faith in the future of their city. I believe it is a unique experiment which India can justifiably be proud of. But it’s clear that there is a long way to go with many potential hazards ahead. Both Aurovillians and the Government of India will have to tread delicately if the balance between the city’s autonomy and the government’s obligations is to be maintained. With their strong individuality, Aurovilians own diversity will destroy them if they don’t constantly remember The Mother’s vision was a vision of unity. (Tully is a writer and a former BBC correspondent) From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 37, Dated Sept 20, 2008

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The boundary between self and other is fuzzy, porous. And this has to be seen as a fact of experience, not a matter of “theory” or “belief”

A Secular Age: Buffered and porous selves posted by Charles Taylor

Modern Westerners have a clear boundary between mind and world, even mind and body. Moral and other meanings are “in the mind.” They cannot reside outside, and thus the boundary is firm. But formerly it was not so. Let us take a well-known example of influence inhering in an inanimate substance, as this was understood in earlier times. Consider melancholy: black bile was not the cause of melancholy, it embodied, it was melancholy. The emotional life was porous here; it didn’t simply exist in an inner, mental space. Our vulnerability to the evil, the inwardly destructive, extended to more than just spirits that are malevolent. It went beyond them to things that have no wills, but are nevertheless redolent with the evil meanings.

See the contrast. A modern is feeling depressed, melancholy. He is told: it’s just your body chemistry, you’re hungry, or there is a hormone malfunction, or whatever. Straightway, he feels relieved. He can take a distance from this feeling, which is ipso facto declared not justified. Things don’t really have this meaning; it just feels this way, which is the result of a causal action utterly unrelated to the meanings of things. This step of disengagement depends on our modern mind/body distinction, and the relegation of the physical to being “just” a contingent cause of the psychic.

But a pre-modern may not be helped by learning that his mood comes from black bile, because this doesn’t permit a distancing. Black bile is melancholy. Now he just knows that he’s in the grips of the real thing.

Here is the contrast between the modern, bounded, buffered self and the porous self of the earlier enchanted world. As a bounded self I can see the boundary as a buffer, such that the things beyond don’t need to “get to me,” to use the contemporary expression. That’s the sense to my use of the term “buffered” here and in A Secular Age. This self can see itself as invulnerable, as master of the meanings of things for it.

These two descriptions get at, respectively, the two important facets of this contrast. First, the porous self is vulnerable: to spirits, demons, cosmic forces. And along with this go certain fears that can grip it in certain circumstances. The buffered self has been taken out of the world of this kind of fear. For instance, the kind of thing vividly portrayed in some of the paintings of Bosch.

True, something analogous can take its place. These images can also be seen as coded manifestations of inner depths, repressed thoughts and feelings. But the point is that in this quite transformed understanding of self and world, we define these as inner, and naturally, we deal with them very differently. And indeed, an important part of the treatment is designed to make disengagement possible.

Perhaps the clearest sign of the transformation in our world is that today many people look back to the world of the porous self with nostalgia, as though the creation of a thick emotional boundary between us and the cosmos were now lived as a loss. The aim is to try to recover some measure of this lost feeling. So people go to movies about the uncanny in order to experience a frisson. Our peasant ancestors would have thought us insane. You can’t get a frisson from what is really in fact terrifying you.

The second facet is that the buffered self can form the ambition of disengaging from whatever is beyond the boundary, and of giving its own autonomous order to its life. The absence of fear can be not just enjoyed, but becomes an opportunity for self-control or self-direction.

And so the boundary between agents and forces is fuzzy in the enchanted world; and the boundary between mind and world is porous, as we see in the way that charged objects can influence us. I have just been referring to the moral influence of substances, like black bile. But a similar point can be made about the relation to spirits. The porousness of the boundary emerges here in various kinds of “possession”—all the way from a full taking over of the person, as with a medium, to various kinds of domination by or partial fusion with a spirit or God. Here again, the boundary between self and other is fuzzy, porous. And this has to be seen as a fact of experience, not a matter of “theory” or “belief.” This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 at 9:09 am and is filed under A Secular Age.