Friday, 30 September 2016

The Great Halloo

Tai.Up. III.x.5-6:
He who knows thus, attains after desisting from this world, this self made of food. After attaining this self made of food, then attaining this self made of mind, then attaining this self made of vital force, then attaining this self made of mind, then attaining this self made of intelligence, then attaining this self made of bliss, and roaming over these world with command over food at will and command over all forms at will, he continues singing this sama song: "Halloo! Halloo!Halloo! I am the food, I am the food; I am the eater; I am the unifier, I am the unifier, I am the unifier; I am (Hiranyagarbha) the first born of this world consisting of the formed and the formless, I as Virat) am earlier than the gods. I am the navel of immortality. He who offers me thus (as food), protects me just as I am. I, food as I am, eat him up who eats food without offering. I defeat (i.e. engulf) the entire universe. Our effulgence is like that of the sun. This is the Upanisad.

This indeed is the great 'Halloo' and world encompassing bliss. In Bangalore I met an Australian devotee of a teacher whose method of instruction was the progressive move through the koshas manomaya kosha, pranamaya kosha etc. as in the Upanisad.
cf. Kosha
I was brought to the teacher's house and there it was explained to me how he had come to this teaching. He had fallen ill of a fever and it seemed to him had left his body. (Stop me if you've heard this before.) In that sphere in which he now was he met the Septa Rishi (Seven Sages) who looked surprised to see him. What are you doing here, you're not supposed to be here for many years. We are going to send you back but with a teaching method that when it is transmitted to a suitable person and practiced faithfully for 15 minutes a day will definitely bring on a state of samadhi within a few years.

As an analogy for the progression through the koshas he offered the image of a series of airlocks in a space-ship. His own meditation space was behind a recess in a wall with a grill in front of it about 3'x3'. We talked outside it and there was a definite vibration of peace at that spot. That's totally subjective of course, just me projecting my own great 'halloo'.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A Thousand Teachings (Upadesa Sahasri) by Sri Shankaracarya

Shankaracarya's Upadesa Sahasri/ A Thousand Teachings a work that is regarded as authentic and unique for him because it is not a commentary on any part of the triple canon i.e. Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras or Upanishads; presents in its first chapter A Method of Enlightening the Disciple. (All quotations are from the translation by Swami Jagadananda published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai) Text at:
A Thousand Teachings

Both to give and to receive instruction require preconditions. On the side of the pupil who is typically taken to be
a pure Brahmana disciple who is indifferent to everything that is transitory and achievable through certain means, who has given up the desire for a son, for wealth and for this world and the next, who has adopted the life of a wandering monk and is endowed with control over the mind and senses, with compassion etc.,

The central requirement is "self-control and a tranquil mind" which is not gender or caste specific. Clearly knowledge of this kind is not simply a matter of the transmission of information. Distortions will occur if the moral base is not established.

When the teacher finds from signs that knowledge has not been grasped (or has been wrongly grasped) by the disciple, he should remove the causes of non-comprehension which are past and present sins, laxity, want of previous firm knowledge of what constitutes the subjects of discrimination between the eternal and the non-eternal, courting popular esteem, vanity of caste etc., and so on, (he should remove) through means contrary to those causes, enjoined by the Srutis and Smrtis viz. avoidance of anger etc., and the vows (Yama) consisting of non-injury etc., also the rules of conduct that are inconsistent with knowledge.

The great teachers who are liberated themselves, the sat-gurus, can nullify the occluding factors and bring a glimpse of the truth even to the unworthy. Simply to be in their presence is enough. Other teachers not quite at that level must have
the power of furnishing arguments pro and con, of understanding questions and remembering them, who possesses tranquillity, self-control, compassion and a desire to help others, who is versed in the scriptures and unattached to enjoyments both seen and unseen, who has renounced the means to all kinds of actions, is a knower of Brahman and established in It, is never a transgressor of the rules of conduct , and who is devoid of shortcomings such as ostentation, pride, deceit, cunning, jugglery, jealousy, falsehood, egotism and attachment.

In the traditional way there is an order of business once the moral bases of both teacher and pupil are well founded. The scriptural texts which summarise the highest teaching are sown like seeds on well plowed and harrowed ground. "All this is but the Self", "All this is verily Brahman". The definition of Brahman comes next - "It is the seer Itself unseen", "Existence, Knowledge, Infinite". The texts from the scriptures on this topic are multitudinous.

This is the traditional foundation for a rational inquiry. Of that more anon.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Interdining in America

Daniel Kaufman writes:
Yet this is precisely what the hardest moral dilemmas involve: not figuring out which action will serve a lone already-established value, but which value, among many, should be served.  Is utility most important in this situation?  Respect?  Gratitude?  And it is for this reason that those who are in the grip of a moral theory behave so poorly on so many occasions.  The Utilitarian vegan, who upon finding himself at an ordinary dinner party refuses to eat the food, acts wrongly not just because he fails to recognize any value other than utility, but because that failure cripples his capacity to engage in sound practical reasoning and to decide among competing values: he is unable to properly navigate the moral demands of his situation, for he can’t see that the effects of his actions on the general welfare, under these circumstances, are negligible, the insult to his host and the disregard for his efforts are substantial, and the overall affect that characterizes his behavior is boorish and uncouth and is in fact made worse, not better, by his philosophic rationalizations.
(from ;
Going by Aristotle’s dictum that :
these things are both valuable and pleasant which are such to the good man; and to each man the activity in accordance with his own state is most desirable, and therefore to the good man that which is in accordance with virtue.

Putting the good man in the capacity of host it is apposite to consider whether offering a vegan food which he does not wish to eat is the mark of a good host. Is it not the business of a good host to find out the food preferences of his guests. That is hardly onerous and merely good manners. You do not offer the imam pork chops or a Hindu beef curry. The vegan might also inform the host that they are such - by the way I’m a vegan/vegetarian; Is that a problem?

The other odd food story Kaufman offers is:

Yes, sometimes the right thing to do *is* to suffer something disgusting, out of respect and caring for one’s host. A friend of mine was teaching English in a rural village in China, and he was invited to the home of one of the students for dinner. He was served a plate of Cicadas, of which the hosts were exceedingly proud — and which, apparently, cost a great deal, relative to their income. He said it was absolutely revolting and yet he ate it anyway, precisely because of the circumstances he was in and the people who were hosting him.

Are there any Chinese who don’t know that Westerners don’t eat insects? (and cats and dogs)) I suspect mischief. Was he being a good host in not making inquiries as to what Westerners like?

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Nisargadatta on Samadhi (from I am That)

Matter is Consciousness Itself:
Maharaj: Everything moves according to its nature. ... Every action creates a reaction, which balances and neutraliszes the action. Everything happens, but there is a continuous cancelling out, and in the end it is as if nothing happened.

"Therefore I keep on saying that all happens by itself. There is order in my world too, but it is not imposed from outside. It comes spontaneously and immediately, because of its timelessness. Perfection is not in the future. It is now.

Maharaj is not bound by the maya of identification with a physical body. "I make no distinction between the body and the universe. Each is the cause of the other, each is the other, in truth. But I am out of it all."

"The most difficult are the intellectuals. They talk a lot, but are not serious."

How to go into Samadhi:

"If you are in the right state, whatever you see will put you into samadhi. After all samadhi is nothing unusual. When the mind is intensely interested, it becomes one with the object of interest - the seer and the seen become one in seeing, the hearer and the heard become one in hearing, the lover and the loved become one in loving. Every experience can be the ground for samadhi."
Questioner: Are you always in a state of samadhi?
Maharaj: Of course not. Samadhi is a state of mind, after all. I am beyond all experience, even of samadhi. I am the great devourer and destroyer; whatever I touch dissolves into void (akash).
Q: I need samadhis for self-realisation.
M: You have all the self-realisation you need, but you do not trust it. Have courage, trust yourself, go, talk, act: give it a chance to prove itself. With some realisation comes imperceptibly, but somehow they need convincing. They have changed, but they do not notice it. Such non-spectacular cases are often the most reliable.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

John Banville's review of Canales' book on the Bergson- Einstein debate on the nature of time

But who now reads Bergson apart from a few lonely specialists? He is remembered by Proust scholars - Proust was Bergson's cousin-in-law, and the best man at his wedding - since a la recherche du temps perdu was said to have been influenced by Bergson's theory of time. But very few contemporary philosophers consider him of any importance, and it would be rare schoolboy nowadays who would know his name.
(from John Banville's review (What do clocks have to do with it?)of The Physicist and the Philosopher by Jimena Canales in The London Review of Books pub.24/7/16)

Of course John that would be the case, inasmuch as the best way not to remember the work of any thinker is never to have read his work. That makes forgetting effortless. Bergson was dismissive of Einstein's view of time regarding it as merely the time of timetables. That was not a wise move rhetorically. The time of Bergson was evolutionary and personal. For Einstein a la Bergson it was a series of instants with gaps that could be elongated as in The Twins Paradox.

Banville's review was worth reading. He is interested in philosophy though he never read it in University never having been there which unusual in a major modern writer. He is much more than the average igger (intelligent general reader) but inevitably nudged by the prevailing scientistic ambience which pits vague dreams and speculation against hard measurable facts.

Bergson was seeking above all to assert the human dimension of experience, the validity of our intuitive sense that the world can be measured not only against scientific fact but also by way of our actions, thoughts, emotions. Einstein, more hard-headed, or at least wedded to a hard-headed interpretation of reality, preferred to put his trust in the empirical certainties, as he saw them , that science offered.
(Banville's review)

Yes true, sort of, with the qualification that Duration is the primary lived experience that gives rise to the concept of time and that the mathematization of time and space or space/time is the source of the scientific theory. This is Bergson's real point so to a degree in that debate in 1922 they were talking past each other.

At some point I may have to read Canales' work. Her special interest as a physicist is in time and measurement. Banville writes:

The Physicist and the Philosopher is an extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging work. Canales has rescued from near oblivion a fascinating , highly significant debate that is still relevant in an age which has begun to question the hegemony of science, and its uncontrollable child, technology.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Filial Piety

Consuming Justin Erik Halldor Smith’s philosophical doughnuts when I find them I feel like the twin on earth getting much, much, older. His latest post as a memorial to his father was different.
a life
A picaresque life without the native irascibility that makes you get down to things seems to cover its climate. There are several extracts from his father’s writing written in that breezy diction which is the hallmark of inconsequential journalism but the appalling thing is that as J.E.H. got further down in his piece that same diction began to manifest in his own writing. That dear reader is frightening. Can we slip our ancestral gravity by re-locating to France or Spain or India?

My father never went in for rhetorical questions. We respected each other by observing a decent manly reticence. Mum’s the word, Dad’s the word.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Johnson and Montaigne on Secrets

Samuel Johnson refers to Michel de Montaigne in Essay no 13 of The Rambler. May 1st. 1750. In an aside on the keeping and the telling of the secrets of others entrusted to one he writes:

There have, indeed, been some enthusiastick and irrational zealots for friendship, who have maintained, and perhaps believed, that one friend has a right to all that is in possession of another; and that therefore it is a violation of kindness to exempt any secret from this boundless confidence. Accordingly a late female minister of state has been shameless enough to inform the world, that she used, when she wanted to extract any thing from her sovereign, to remind her of Montaigne's reasoning, who has determined, that to tell a secret to a friend is no breach of fidelity, because the number of persons trusted is not multiplied, a man and his friend being virtually the same.
That such a fallacy could be imposed upon any human understanding, or that an author could have advanced a position so remote from truth and reason, any otherwise than as a declaimer, to shew to what extent he could stretch his imagination, and with what strength he could press his principle, would scarcely have been credible, had not this lady kindly shewn us how far weakness may be deluded, or indolence amused.

I am, with Johnson, against Montaigne's airy man of the world sharing and my own way with the secrets of others is to forget them as quickly as possible. Am I an abyss of discretion? I am not at liberty to disclose but I will say this... No better not. Have you ever met friends of a friend that you haven't met before and sensed the presence of forward intelligence that may not be altogether benign. They being forewarned and forearmed creates a blockade. Is this just paranoia? The common rationalisation that not gossiping is a sign of a lack of interest in people is destructive of friendship and you can be certain that you too will be served as a piquant dip.

The rules therefore that I shall propose concerning secrecy, and from which I think it not safe to deviate, without long and exact deliberation, are—Never to solicit the knowledge of a secret. Not willingly, nor without many limitations, to accept such confidence when it is offered. When a secret is once admitted, to consider the trust as of a very high nature, important as society, and sacred as truth, and therefore not to be violated for any incidental convenience, or slight appearance of contrary fitness.

I am taking two shots of The Rambler every day and besides the grandiloquence of the stately periods, his profound moral sense and seriousness blended with a realisation of personal fallibility does me good.

Addendum: As I suspected the Montaigne essay that Johnson refers to is De L’Amitie or On Friendship or by Screech On Affectionate Relationships

If one (of two friends) entrusted to your silence something which it was useful for the other to know, how would you get out of that? The unique, highest friendship loosens all other bonds. That secret which I have sworn to reveal to no other, I can reveal without perjury to him who is not another: he is me. It is a great enough miracle for oneself to be redoubled: they do not realize how high a one it is when they talk of its being tripled.
(Screech trans.)