Friday, October 31, 2008


Song Ling, Innocence

Innocence shows us what needs conserving
and what needs liberating.

Without innocence liberalism is permissiveness,
and conservatism is fascism.
Fascism destroys the innocent quickly;
Permissiveness destroys them more slowly.
That is the only difference.

Point of View

Las Meninas (the Maids of Honour), Velasquez, Prado Museum.
Some argue that, because it seems to depict perception itself, Las Meninas is the greatest painting in Western Art.

"All experience is had from a point of view, which is not represented in the experience itself, but is, as it were, its inner limit. Its outer limit is equally elusive, like the boundary of the visual field. beyond which there is nothing else on the same level." Wittgenstein takes up this Schopenhaueresque idea.

Wittgenstein argues "in the Tractatus that, when the solipsist claims that all experiences are had by his ego, he fails to connect his ego with his body and so there is no justification for calling it 'his'. It lacks a criterion of identity and it may just as well be the collective ego of the whole human species - an interpretation which points to idealism rather than solipsism. There is a dilemma here. For if the solipsist does tie his ego to his body, his claim will be self-refuting, because his body is placed in the world among other bodies, each with its own field of consciousness. This shows that the solipsist's field of consciousness cannot be a breakaway world.

The solution to the problem of the ego is implicit in the Tractatus but it is worked out in detail in Wittgenstein's early middle period. The ego itself vanishes without our feeling any sense of loss. My field of consciousness, like the field of vision that it contains, is self-authenticating: if a sensation occurs in it, I do not even have to ask myself whose it is. There is no inner owner for me to point at and I may as well drop the word 'I' and say, 'there is pain'."
- David Pears, Wittgenstein.


"In the act of knowing myself, I become subject and object simultaneously. This peculiar sort of knowledge also dismantles the dichotomy between thought and action, or fact and value - for to know myself is to alter myself in that very act, and to grasp the truth of my condition is to know what I would need in order to be free."
- Terry Eagleton on Georg Lukacs


I pay homage to the Perfection of Wisdom.
She is worthy of homage.
She is unstained,
and the entire world cannot stain Her.
She is a source of light,
and from everyone in the triple world
She removes darkness.

-Ashta Sahasrika 7, 170 (1st Century)


"I slowly moved from seeing this man as an anguished spiritual genius of theological profundity to a pervert who has had a more malign effect on Western culture than probably any other individual. I still find breathtaking his ability to distort scripture - also noted by his contemporary St. Jerome - as well as the persuasive rationality with which he twists reality. But it is when one has to deal with people who have been traumatised by the crass application of his teachings (bereaved mothers who were told that their unbaptised children would be eternally damned) that the time comes to say enough is enough."
- Dominic Kirkham, London Review of Books.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Hebrew Goddess

The Hebrew Goddess
is a book by Jewish historian and anthropologist Raphael Patai. In this book, Patai argues that the Jewish religion historically had elements of polytheism, especially the worship of goddesses and a cult of the mother goddess. The book supports the theory through the interpretation of archaeological and textual sources as evidence for veneration of feminine beings. Hebrew goddesses identified in the book include Asherah, Anath, Astarte, Ashima, the cherubim in Solomon's Temple, the Matronit (Shekhina), and the personified Shabbat Bride. The later editions of the book were expanded to include recent archaeological discoveries and the rituals of unification (Yichudim) which are to unite God with His Shekinah.
If, as the mystics say, the Self of the universe is not different to the manifest universe, It must have feminine aspects amongst it's infinite aspects. In abolishing the idols of the old cults, the monotheistic prophets were, quite rightly, seeking to liberate in humanity a sense of unlimited Being, unlimited to particular forms. But those who call themselves monotheists often limit God, making Him in their own ego image.


Music, being identical with heaven,
isn't a thing of momentary thrills,
or even hourly ones.
It's a condition of eternity.
-Gustav Holst

The English composer Gustav Holst was interested in Hindu mysticism and spirituality, and this was to influence his later works, including Sita (1899–1906, a three-act opera based on an episode in the Ramayana), Sāvitri, a chamber opera based on a tale from the Mahabharata, and Hymns from the Rig Veda, in preparation for which he took lessons in Sanskrit at University College London and acquired enough understanding to be able to make his own adaptations of Sanskrit texts. Holst was also interested in socialism, astrology (he regularly gave readings for people) and the gnostic gospels.

I Vow to Thee, My Country is a British patriotic song created in 1921 when a poem by Cecil Spring-Rice was set to music by Gustav Holst, who adapted the music from a section of Jupiter from his suite The Planets. Though some have criticised the song's apparent nationalism, the final part is a call to a loyalty beyond that for ones' country; it evokes the heavenly realm of the Goddess, whose 'king' is Lord Shiva, the unseen, Eternal Self. The last two lines are from the Book of Proverbs, ascribed to King Solomon, which describe Wisdom as a Feminine aspect of God.

And there's another Country
I've heard of long ago,
Most Dear to them that Love her,
most Great to them that Know.
We may not count her Armies.
We may not see her King.
Her Fortress is a faithful Heart;
her Pride is Suffering.
And Soul by Soul and silently,
her shining Bounds increase
And her ways are ways of Gentleness
and all her paths are Peace

Friday, October 24, 2008

Consciousness and Social Being

Shri Krishna and Gopis, Indian temple hanging (pichvai) c.1840
National Gallery of Australia.

"Human consciousness is not located in the head, but is immanent in the living body and the interpersonal social world. One’s consciousness of oneself as an embodied individual embedded in the world emerges through empathic cognition of others. Consciousness is not some peculiar qualitative aspect of private mental states, nor a property of the brain inside the skull; it is a relational mode of being of the whole person embedded in the natural environment and the human social world."
-Evan Thompson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto.

Consciousness is associated in particular with the Visshuddhi Chakra (subtle centre located on the throat but which is also the origin of the brain). It is believed that play evolved in order to develop consciousness in living creatures. Intelligent creatures, such as dolphins and apes, tend to be playful. There are many stories about the playfulness of Shri Krishna, the aspect of the Divine who rules over the Visshuddhi Chakra, and whose life exemplified social being, the interplay of collectivity.


Dualist religious thinkers, who believe in a soul separate from the 'material' brain, point to evidence from brain scans showing that people can alter their patterns of neural firing at will, and argue that since the mind can change the brain, the mind must be something other than the brain, something non-material. In fact such experiments are entirely consistent with mainstream neurology - the material brain is changing the material brain.
Advocates of Science and religion fight over whether or not 'materialism' is right, but the conflict turns on definitions. What is matter? What do we mean by 'material'?
"At one time it looked like all physical causation was push/pull Newtonianism", says Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy and neurobiology at Duke University, North Carolina. "Now we have a new understanding of physics. What counts as material has changed. Some respectable philosophers think that we might have to posit sentience as a fundamental force of nature or use quantum gravity to understand consciousness. These stretch beyond the bounds of what we today call 'material', and we haven't discovered everything about nature yet. But what we do discover will be natural, not supernatural."
New Scientist 25 October 2008
For thousands of years, non-dualist philosophers have stated that the natural origin of the world is the Self, pure Existence. It is not 'supernatural' in the sense that it is separate from the world. It is not only a fundamental characteristic of the world (like space, time and energy) but the underlying characteristic, the substrate of reality. They have said that, from the viewpoint of the Self, there is no distinction between 'matter' and 'spirit', 'material world' and 'Self'. Perhaps It is superior to the world (super-natural) in the sense that it is the origin - the world emerges from Self, not Self from world - but when we are talking about a non-dual, beginningless, endless continuum, even the distinction between origin and emerged manifestation is probably meaningless.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Painting by American Artist Will Wilson
This wonderful image brought on a poem:
Wearying, wearing -
the tides of mind, the push and pull,
the endless 'tractions of the world:
de-, con-, dis-, at-, in-, ex-,
whether it's grit's irritation
or enamour of pearl.
Closed eyes close out the world
but not the mind.
A deep breath may extinguish it for but a minute.
How to push away that intractable tractor?
Who is distracted, weary, or worn?
"We are weary", say bodies, say minds.
But who wears them?
(in both senses of the word)
Who is the moon of their tides?
Who decides to pause and be gathered
or be pulled away and scattered?
Who if not the world itself?
All dis-tractions
are our own,
each one happens
in the tractless Self,
which is both
tractor and tractee,
breather and breathed.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Stubborn Goat of Mind

This I-ness has to go away. That is what meditation is –
where you are no more ‘I’ but it is ‘You’.
Kabirdasji has written a beautiful poem about it:
when the goat is living and kicking, she says “Mein, mein” -
that is “I, I”.
But then she dies and her intestines are drawn out into wires
and some saint fixes them on the ‘Tutari’ –
that instrument that they have –
‘Ektari’ as they call it, and he goes on pulling it with his fingers,
then it says “ Tu hi, Tu hi, Tu hi” –
that is “You are, You are, You are”.

- Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi
A weaver by profession, Kabir (1398—1448) ranks among the world's greatest poets. In India, he is perhaps the most quoted author. The Sikh Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib, contains over 500 verses by Kabir. The Sikh community in particular and others who follow the Holy Granth, hold Kabir in the same reverence as the other ten Gurus. Kabir means 'great', das means servant of the Divine, and ji is a suffix denoting respect.

The ektara, or ektari veena, is a string instrument of the wandering bards and minstrels of India. 'Ek' means 'one', and 'tara' means 'string', so it is usually single stringed. It is often used in Kirtan - a Hindu devotional practice of singing the divine names and mantras in an ecstatic call and response format. The ektara is used by Sadhus, or wandering holy men, and in Sufi chanting, as well as by the Bauls of Bengal.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hey, my turn Ginge!

It's kind of fun to project human egoistic foibles onto animals, but the reality is that they do not have ego at all. They are, what is called in Hindu philosophy, pashu - completely bound to, and integrated with, the Self. However, this doesn't mean they don't have personalities. The difference between ego and personality is that the former is illusory while the latter is a real manifestation - a facet - of the singular but multifaceted Self. Ego is not a component of the true personality, it occludes the real personality.


The manifestation of tongues of flame on the Day of Pentecost, El Greco.
As indicated in most depictions of this scene, the presence of the Virgin Mary was central to the Pentecost Event as the Kundalini is a Maternal Divine Force. El Greco was a Self-realised artist, many years ahead of his time stylistically, who must have himself experienced the emergence of the Kundalini from the fontanel at the crown chakra. There is nothing hysterical about his interpretation, rather there is a sense of profound calmness and depth.

The Pentecostalist or Charismatic Churches have entered the limelight with the YouTube video of the involvement of Republican politician Sarah Palin in this radical sect. Pentecostalists are biblical literalists who place particular emphasis on the gifts received by the apostles on the Day of Pentecost from the Holy Spirit: which were said to include the ability to heal and to communicate in foreign tongues. This is how the event is described in the New Testament:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The true meaning of the Day of Pentecost is the awakening of the healing Kundalini energy (the Divine Breath or Wind, described in the Koran as the Rukh), and awareness of the chakras in the inner, subtle body. In ancient yoga texts it is recorded that when the Kundalini rises and passes through the various chakras, it makes different subtle sounds: the syllables which make up the Sanskrit language. This is probably the unknown language that the apostles learned on the Day of Pentecost. The hysterical gibberish - 'speaking in tongues' - and collapsing into trance states, practised by pentecostalists has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit or the Kundalini; it is a dangerous psychological regression into the subconscious.

Kundalini awakening gives the yogi an understanding, not only of their own inner being but that of others. It confers peace and self-possession, not hysteria and hypnosis. It engenders tolerance and empathy for other peoples and cultures. In the realm of the subtle body, we are all built the same, and all speak the same language. In contrast to this, the Charismatic churches are characterised by hystrionic fundamentalism, literalism, exclusivism and intolerance.
See the YouTube Video of Sarah Palin - it's scary stuff:

Friday, October 03, 2008

the owner of a head

On his commentary page in the latest issue of New Scientist Magazine, the philosopher A.C. Grayling discusses the mystery of how consciousness emerges from the brain. The brain has physical properties - mass etc - but thoughts do not. He writes that hardly anyone now accepts the dualistic concept that mind and body are separate things. But then he goes on to discuss the encounter that obviously occurs between a flower and the "owner" of the head perceiving the flower.
Exactly what is he referring to when he talks about an "owner" of a mind or body? A self or soul separate from the body?
Even scientific magazines, it seems, are not immune from the dualistic thinking perpetuated by the religions they often criticise.
Here's an excerpt from the piece:
"According to one influential school of thought, some of the ways we think about our minds have to go beyond our investigations of what is inside our heads to include the physical and social environment surrounding our heads. This idea is prompted by the thought that what we know when we understand a concept has to involve a connection between a brain event and something in the world. Here is an obvious example: to understand the concept of a flower, and to be able to distinguish between flowers and other things - trees and buildings say - the relevant physiological occurrences inside the head have to stand in a determinate relationship with flowers and non-flowers outside the head. This relationship, again obviously, is empirical: an actual perceptual encounter between the head's owner and flowers (or at least pictures of flowers) must have taken place at some point.
But a less obvious aspect of having a concept of flowers is that whenever we think of flowers, the relationship between what is happening inside our heads and flowers outside our heads has to remain in some form, in order for our discourse to be about flowers rather than some other thing. Nothing mysterious or magical is implied by this; it just means that to explain the thought of a flower as distinct from a thought of anything else, reference to flowers out there in the world is unavoidable.
The notion that thought is thus essentially connected to the outside world is intended to illustrate the more general idea that "mind" is not describable in terms of brain activity alone. Instead, it must be understood as a relationship between that activity and the external social and physical environment. Philosophers give the name "broad content" to thoughts that can only be properly described in terms of their thinkers' relationship to the environment. Some even argue that there can be no such thing as "narrow content" - that is, thoughts that are specifiable independently of their thinkers' environments and just in terms of what is going on inside the skull.
If it is right that all content is broad content, then the implications are very great. It means that understanding minds involves much more than understanding brains alone. It involves understanding language, society and history too."
- A.C. Grayling
New Scientist, 4 October 2008
The implication is also this: if a self exists, it must be singular, and it must be co-extensive with the entire world.