Obsolete "Truth"

“Spirituality” and “mysticism” are some of the ideas that are given to mixed understanding by people and scholars of different backgrounds. As an atheist with an empiricist worldview, I tend to deconstruct all ideas of spirituality and mysticism, and ultimately reduce it to an actor’s experience within a structure. It is unlike Freudian psychoanalytic reductionism, though. I do not really try to or find it purposeful to “demystify” the “experience” a certain way. Just like all the inexplicably surreal dreams many of us have regularly. I simply dismiss them. They are irrelevant to life in a materialist, physically grounded world that follows rules that are decipherable by our basic, shared senses – either directly or through instruments. Its validity and accuracy aside, psychoanalysis may be necessary insofar as philosophical and epistemic reasoning – of the simplest kind, such as deconstruction – do not enlighten the visions of “enlightenment.”

Spirituality in of itself risks extinction if it is not communicated through a materialistic form. All mystical experiences – of “pure consciousness” or otherwise – have to be mediated semiotically even for self-explanation. Verbalizing it makes it even more distorted (or manipulated) with interplay of specific cultural signifiers and semantics. Even that, assuming the person has not consciously fabricated the said experience itself. So Ramakrishna may have been honest about all his “visions” but they were still a product of his environment. I do not care if it was his suppressed homoeroticism that subconsciously transfigured into his mystical experiences, they were all constructed nevertheless. How or why is immaterial. My interest and respect for him (whatever I have) comes only from his politics.

On the same token, God’s relevance is more important than God’s existence – it’s a point of ontological divergence. Advaita Vedanta’s notions of “absolute truth”, Brahman, “essence” etc., need to be treated as such. “Who are you?” is not that tricky a question. The answer “I am who you are asking it to” would rubbish all its non-dualistic connotations. All objects are perceived relationally and an object’s state devoid of its relation to the subject – in its “essence” – is of little value in the physical world. Actually, I disagree with the idea itself; that there is an inherent, singular “nature” or “spirit” for every object, outside of human observation. It's a notion akin to the "ultimate purpose" of human life.

Spiritualists seem to rely solely on analogical simplification when their obscurantist claims are deconstructed. The problem in doing so is that analogies are inherently meant to simplify and are hence circular. The way a straight train is made to climb around mountains by exploiting minor flexibilities in its path. (Yes, it’s meant to be ironic.) The only thing about spirituality that I find worthwhile is the philosophical analyses of phenomena in the material world within its terms. Such occurrences, however, are rare in most cases. Most of them have an uncanny, theologically motivated obsession with fatalism.

I do not see this as “Western philosophies’ inability to understand/accommodate the Orient.” It is rather unfortunate that our people were colonized when the West was busy philosophizing matter. Because, a land mass with languages as complex as any European language would have churned out its share of philosophers who would have propounded the same ideas – it’s an undeniable statistical probability. It is disingenuous and escapist to exploit temporal precedence to forward irrational ideas. Of course, rationality itself is a useless Western idea, isn’t it? Indians could have never come up with that on their own. It’s better not to talk about positivist, neuroscientific studies etc.

Experience tells us that for all the God’s supposed communication with its most ardent disciples – gurus and spiritual leaders – people end up doing what their political space allows them to do. A country such as India stands testament to this assertion. The ratio of god-men and inequities among the people is perhaps the worst in this part of the world. Most spiritual gurus here are supposed to have had some kind of “authentic spiritual experience” at some point of their lives. They meditate, fast, chant and do everything to achieve “nirvana” – a mental state that, among other things, keeps out the travails of the “real” world. Why seek political emancipation when “spiritual emancipation” puts you at a better place in the society? If only the poor and the oppressed learnt to fill their stomachs with spiritual food.

From Ramakrisha who convulsed at the sight of money to Jayendra Saraswathi who is bathed in gold coins, spirituality in India has sure come a long way. Most of the spiritualists, I would argue, are not really waiting for their Gods or gurus to say what to do. In spite of all their Sanskrit mumbo-jumbo, they exist and operate in the materialistic domain. It's just another weapon in their wide arsenal to achieve/preserve their elite status and social elevation. If nothing, some kind of respect for their "aura." They are the neo-hippies. “What about the unassuming ascetics by the banks of Ganges?” you may ask. All I can say is, “keep their weed supplies uninterrupted.”

15 comments:

Juvvi said...

neo hippies.. :D

Anonymous said...

some of your posts have too much jargons. It's tiring to read them.

sk said...

Overall, I do agree with what you say. But, still just a few disagreements. ;)

//Spirituality in of itself risks extinction if it is not communicated through a materialistic form.//
I think this is not necessarily true given just the historical life of spirituality in some form or the other. Even after Darwin/Dawkins. I believe this will continue for as long as man has fear, he will lend himself to be exploited by such ideas. On average, he tries to minimize unhappiness/discomfort with minimum possible effort. In simple terms, just laziness. So rationality might not gain as much currency as against spirituality. And of course, if something can be explained, then it loses its charm, which essentially what this whole thing is about.

//a land mass with languages as complex as any European language would have churned out its share of philosophers who would have propounded the same ideas – it’s an undeniable statistical probability.//
Well again statistical probabilities need not come true. If that is the case, India with so many languages and so much population should have come up with steam engine/aeroplane long before the West. Of course they had the blueprint ready and patented it as Pushpak Vimana right? ;) Leave alone India, how about China which was pretty much known for its 'practical' attitude and host of innovations. IMHO, all this knowledge/lack of it grew out of a facilitating ecosystem, howmuchever small.

Suresh said...

SK,

Please this again, "[s]pirituality in of itself risks extinction if it is not communicated through a materialistic form," and the rest of the paragraph.

You're extrapolating my statement to something that is not all that similar. Philosophical literature and complexity of language are closely related, not sure about technological innovation (for what it's worth). You've missed out one major qualification I made: we were colonized. And above all, I said "it’s an undeniable statistical probability." So it doesn't mean it's statistically impossible, but improbable (to not have come up with rationalism). After all, there have been. That's why I followed it up with a sarcastic claim.

Anonymous said...

Suresh,

Where do you fit studies such as those conducted in Cern? You think those theories are irrelevant because they don't exist in the materialistic world?

The Individualist said...

Soul. God. Spirituality. Mysticism. -yawn-.
I completely agree with what you said. :D

Suresh said...

Anon,

First of all, the study you're talking about exists in the materialistic world. Theoretical physicists theorize by extending information that is perceived by our 'basic senses.' They make speculative leaps once in a while based on probabilities. It's a part of scientific method.

Atom, radium etc., were not seen (sensually perceived) when they were theoretically conceived. But they were eventually. So Higgs boson, dark matter or whatever is in paper right now, could be "discovered" and literally shown to the world. There's no mystery there.

About their relevance: it's a philosophical question that elicits a situated answer. Much criticism is launched against science that is directed towards "impractical" purposes. Why explore Mars? and all that.

I have often felt that human beings aren't that special and all their pursuit to their continued existence is futile. In that sense, I don't care why matter has mass. I don't see how it's going to change the way I conduct my life. But I cannot judge its merit simply based on its relevance to my idea of life or just the current civilization. Science doesn't work that way. There's also a tricky notion: knowledge for knowledge's sake.

So Cern could fill the unknown in many theories that have remained inert for decades. Which would in turn keep the process going and one day we might be able to do...whatever.

But the most likely outcome is that it will be one of the many scientific discoveries that have either meant nothing to vast majority of the people in this planet or has had adverse effects. To be honest, I have terribly mixed views about these things.

Prasad Venkataramana said...

Suresh,
It's interesting that you bypassed the second comment. May be you didn't respond because it's not a question. It seems like you're trying to scale Rushdie's heights sentence-construction wise.

Talking of theoretical physicists, Richard Feynman said that any complicated concept, if understood right, one should be able to explain to a 17 year old (wo)man with average intelligence. I'm not questioning your expressive powers. But reading such pieces is really taxing my averagely intelligent brain.

Hawkeye said...

I am afraid I don't agree with a lot of things you said. But let me start with some thing that is more glaring.

/* “Who are you?” is not that tricky a question. The answer “I am who you are asking it to” would rubbish all its non-dualistic connotations */

I am not an advaithin.. but can you deconstruct this for me. Why so?

Hawkeye said...

1. I went back and thought of refuting the post in a point by point manner. But then understood to this post to be an "opinion" piece. You are not stating findings, logically linking them and after due analysis coming to a conclusion.

2. This post seems more like "This is the way I see it. So this is it". It almost betrays the possibility that you preferred a particular end before you began your analysis journey.

3. It would help the conversation if you could say "why" you arrive at certain conclusions. Because statements like "Experience tells us that for all the God’s supposed communication with its most ardent disciples – gurus and spiritual leaders" sound very naive.

4. Overall I should say that your cleverness must be used to seek understanding not merely to poke holes and insinuate. Otherwise whats the difference between a Kamalahasan and you.

5. We've had an exchange on "essense" before. Why are you going after debunking? Its not a rhetorical cry. Really - what is the purpose of attacking that particular theory. Is it the choke point of all the arguments you've had in the past and you find it necessary to debunk it.

Suresh said...

Prasad,

The post is the way it is probably because of what I read before writing it. I didn't reply that comment because it's a subjective opinion. If someone said the post is boring, it would be silly of me to step in say "no, it's not!" It's kind of the same thing.

Wiki articles are some of the most lucidly written, in general. But even they are quite complex when we enter certain topics. For example, if I wrote a post about Marx, I'll have to use terms like bourgeois, proletariat, dialectics etc. I may be able to write one without them, but using them is more natural than not, wouldn't you agree? And if someone is new to Marx he/she will probably find it tiring to read through it. It's a matter of familiarity at that point, not necessarily intelligence.

Nevertheless, it's quite possible that in spite of one's familiarity the subject(s) and the terms, the post is tiring to read. I wasn't able to judge because, well, I wrote it.

Bharath,

You're right. It is an opinion piece. That's why I state, "[a]s an atheist with an empiricist worldview, I tend to deconstruct all ideas of spirituality and mysticism, and ultimately reduce it to an actor’s experience within a structure," right in the beginning. In what follows, I talk about different sub-topics and state where I stand and why.
It's not to be understood as "I'm an atheist because I find X in this," but as "being an atheist, I don't relate to X."

If someone is not an atheist or empiricist (or neither), he/she is very likely to disagree with most or even everything I say. There's no point in having a dialogue if we cannot reconcile that point. They are a fundamental difference with regard to one's world view. Much has written on either side by academic scholars themselves. If I cite a journal article, the other party can probably cite two. That's why I don't welcome any dialogue on certain issues.

But if you want to question my arguments within my terms, sure, I'll address them.

Point 3: I think what I've said above answers this.
As far the specific line you've quoted goes, I think I've followed it up adequately. If your objection is that gurus are not necessarily the most ardent disciples of God, I was just being sarcastic. For I don't even believe in God; I reject his/her relationship with human beings, and I don't validate what makes one a sincere disciple or otherwise. I should have probably qualified more words.
If your disagreement is based on some other point, please explicate. I don't want to guess beforehand.

Point 4: This post does not say everything about my understanding of the issues it includes. I've just put out what I thought are the most prominent. As I've stated earlier, I have a certain worldview and everything I encounter finds a certain place after some analysis (sometimes prima facie).

Point 5: Bharath, the idea of essence is not just about some abstract philosophical idea. Essentialism is a point of many political engagements that often go unnoticed. The last time we spoke about it was in the post about caste. But I think you know it has wider presence in all political discourses. All these assumptions -- that there is a pure Tamil culture, an Indian identity etc. -- emerge from the idea of essence.

I may have beaten it to death already. I am not sure.

Initially I just wanted to write about "sprituality." The term kept bombarding me several times last month and I was quite irritated. What prompted the inclusion of advaita was the hoopla about 'Naan Kadavul' -- about the meaning of "aham brahmasmi," the way the movie has applied it (whether or not its accurate) and all that. I felt many of the discussions were a little absurd. I may do a podcast on the movie (I saw the movie a couple of days ago -- hated it). If I did, this post, if nothing, will serve as a rejoinder.

Hawkeye said...

I am empericist but one that is not predicated on modern math & science. But your comment helps me get the nature of the post.

1. I am with you on the "spiritual" topic. I would have made a post on it today (based on years of hearing about it) if not for someother distraction. I have never understood what people mean when they say they are a "spiritualist" but not "religious". I dont think I will ever. To me form and substance are so interconnected that it is almost the same thing (but yet two different things).

3. "Guru" is just what it means. A teacher. An acharyan. God does not speak to a "guru". Only charlatans claim this. They are ahead in the learning curve of *that* subject and so teach people who don't know how to navigate. Idiots have begun to use this "guru" as some sort of beach-side kili josiyar (asking them for predictions and parigarams) and the gurus have allowed it for traffic purposes ("ethukku kumbitta enna.. etho saami kumutta seri" logic).

4. Although it is against my policy to ding madathipathis - Jayendra Saraswathi, in my opinion is an aberration. I don't know much about Sankara mutt. But choosing a teenage boy purely for his intellect and not for his temperment is so early is a classic budhist mistake that has failed repeatedly. People who didnt know history were doomed by selecting him. So if its balanced analysis you are looking for Jayendra saraswathi is 5 std deviations away from the mean. Plus pursuit of gold (arthashastra) is not a violation of "religious" rules. One could even argue that ramakrishna was wrong here.

6. Mutss who stick to the true purpose of "guru" and reject people who come asking "can you tell me what god thinks about me, parigaram, dosham etc" are termed elitist and are generally unpopular.

(more to come)

Anonymous said...

Freud was the biggest fraud - UG

Anonymous said...

You cannot experience anything without knowledge. It is a vicious circle

Anonymous said...

Anon..UG was a real cool dude. I love the fervour and disdain in his speech..but at the end, he still yearned adulation. He secretely wanted followers. That is inspite of screaming that there is no path and gurus are bull..
To the blogger: Sorry for intrusion as this was not meant to you :) Your tamil is pretty good and mature! May be I am listening after a long time..Keep it up!

Post a Comment

 
©2009 english-tamil