Science of the Absolute Chapter 8 - Prologue

 
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AN INTEGRATED SCIENCE OF THE ABSOLUTE

 

8. CONTEMPLATION

 

PROLOGUE

We have translated the term bhakti as "contemplation". It is defined by Narayana Guru as "Self-contemplation". Sankara in the "Vivekachudamani" (Verses 31-32) also defines it as contemplation of the Self. According to popular usage the term covers many forms of emotional expression and religious devotion. Agony, ecstasy, mystic trance as well as subnormal and abnormal expressions are also sometimes covered by this term. India is essentially a religious country, and such manifestations are normal.

 

The varieties of religious behaviour connected with holy places and individuals representing this type of spiritual life have offered the traveler to India many interesting features. The search for naked fakirs or yogis continues to interest visitors who are curious about this aspect of contemplation. Yogis and mahatmas are still supposed to be hiding in the Himalayas and other out-of-the-way places. Various psychic feats or performances are expected to be seen by the visitor. These performances sometimes include men sitting on nails and practicing other forms of self-torture.

 

All these exaggerated expressions of bhakti have been condemned by Sankara, the Buddha and others, as purposeless in the serious context of wisdom. However interesting they may be in themselves and no matter how much mystery they offer the student of psychology, the philosopher will always take a most generalized and abstract view of the variety of such expressions, dismissing freak instances as of secondary importance only. Even the Bhagavad Gita, III.10 tries to put all types of spirituality under the single term of yajna or sacrifice. This is presented there as an abstract principle lodged in the heart of human beings from the beginning of creation.



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This unitive reduction of all spiritual expressions in common human life includes in its scope two other principles called dana (gift giving) and tapas (austerity). According to the Gita the spiritual tradition of India comes down to us in a three-stranded string made up of these elements. Man offers sacrifice to some high principle, whether or not it has fully attained the Absolute. The meaning of the Absolute is conceivable under these three categories as repeatedly pointed out in the Upanishads. It is therefore not wrong to say that bhakti is an attempt to establish a bi-polar relation between a religious aspirant and his own highest ideal inclusive of these three elements fused into one.



A cosmological Absolute, with or without a personal God, and a psychological Absolute, representing the non-Self counterpart of the devotee, are interchangeable in establishing this bipolarity required for bhakti. Besides being capable of being viewed under the perspectives of cosmology and psychology, it is possible to think of bhakti in the context of axiology. The Self and the non-Self are related as bipolar counterparts of an axiological situation where an osmotic and reciprocal exchange of value essences takes place between the counterparts. The Self is absolute and the non-Self is relative, in a relativistic context still retained here for purposes of discourse. Even this duality will be seen to be finally abolished by the end of the tenth chapter, where all reciprocities are abolished by mutual absorption.

 

Chapter 6 on instrumentalism assumed a similar duality for developing its subject where the apparent disparity between the instrument and thought was more pronounced in favour of the instrument.



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In the last chapter (7), the conditioned and unconditioned come together more closely with their complementarities of functioning. Here the Self and the non-Self aspects are still distinguishable and the non-Self aspect is viewed under the three perspectives of the cosmological, psychological and axiological. Each of these implies an equation of its own homogeneous order presupposing a parity of status between the limbs of each equation.

 

There is also a fourth equation implied in this chapter (VIII) belonging to a more perceptual content as in the case of the relation between a married man and woman. Marital felicity is a value that most persons experience in common human life. By treating this felicity as a value on a par with higher spiritual values Narayana Guru intends to bring all contemplation realistically as well as idealistically under one overall category for purposes of a Science of the Absolute. He does not exclude even this factual and popular experience of contemplative values known to all in everyday life.

 

In the terminating verses Narayana Guru includes under bhakti such forms of respect or regard for administrative heads, not to speak of the respect due to the Father of Humanity as well as parents and teachers. This scientific and impartial treatment of bhakti in a form that is complete but carefully inclusive of its accidental or necessary implications and associations in the popular mind is therefore quite evident. Full absolutist devotion or contemplation is however treated apart from all traditional or necessary taints as a separate item at the end of the chapter.



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1. COMPLEMENTARITY, RECIPROCITY AND PARITY

There are many freak expressions of spirituality found in religions. In India the variety is so great that it is almost impossible to do justice to even the main classes of such expressions. Asvaghosa the Buddhist enumerates the various forms of religious expressions of his time. Sankara also refers to many different religious expressions in the Bhajagovindam, going so far as to say they exist merely to fill the stomach. Their scientific classification can only be attempted on the basis of complementarity, reciprocity and parity between counterparts implying an equation between the Self and the non-Self.

 

These three terms are used by physicists like Heisenberg, Bohr and others to express relationships between aspects of physical and metaphysical realities.

  1. Complementarity is based on the notion of factors completing each other.
  2. Reciprocity goes one step further in equalizing the status of the counterparts with varying degrees of difference between them. They need not necessarily include each other in the operation or function of the interchange of essences.
  3. Parity marks an essential equality between counterparts.
Re-normalization is a process by which counterparts abolish their differences in respect of an axiomatic or experimental certitude. In striking averages and eliminating error there is the principle of cancellation of counterparts necessarily implied. There is always a double correction. The various kinds of bhakti enumerated in this chapter can be systematically examined only in the light of the above notions. We have already indicated the four kinds of equations implied in this chapter, three of them being of immanent import and the fourth being transcendental because of its absolutist implications.



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If we should now go on trying to enumerate in graded order the other items arising from Self-non-Self relations, we can think of factors like the alternation of pairs of ambivalent items, the absorption of verticalized counterparts or the elimination of horizontal factors by a principle of innate contradiction. samyoga (horizontal-union) and samanya (inherent union) are the technical Vedantic terms referring respectively to the mechanistic (samyoga) and the to more inherent self absorption (samanya) of such counterparts. In verses 54-56, 57-68, and 72 of the "Atmopadesa Satakam", Narayana Guru refers to this.

 

We need not go into the detailed implications of the verse here as we have already dealt with these matters in the Preliminaries and elsewhere. All we wish to point out is that the dynamism of contemplation here presupposes a methodology and epistemology with the Self and non-Self as counterparts and that an equalization of value factors are involved. The dynamism is always the same in whatever way it may be described.

 

All actions have their reactions in a crude horizontal sense in the world of mechanistic life. The principle of contradiction is minimized more and more when counterparts have a fuller verticalized status. When contradiction lingers on, it can be expressed in the form of an alternating succession in consciousness. When verticalization becomes better established, alternation gives place to simultaneity. In the purest of verticalized versions of the same dynamism a total mutual absorption or cancellation into the neutral unity of the Absolute finally takes place.

 

When religions speak of the rewards of heaven and the punishments of hell, the scientifically minded man should understand these terms in the most universal and abstract sense, referring to an alternating dynamism in the overall context of spiritual progress. What is the most universally understandable is the most scientific, and as for abstraction, it can be either of a geometric or algebraic order. Visible and intelligible meanings can meet in the highest unity if schematic abstractions yield certitude to both. Between the most sacred and the profane, value factors in life have their dynamic interplay based on the same factors, such as reciprocity etc.



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When these features of contemplative dynamism are treated together, bringing in all the possible elements and their functions, we come to a way of treatment of such subjects as bhakti, and also the remaining chapters of this work. Here Narayana Guru boldly defines this term in a most generalized way and in a manner reflecting the style of the Upanishads. Adoration of the Self is the essence of bhakti, because it always refers to one's self while its outward manifestation is non-essential to the subject. We have seen elsewhere how scientists like Schroedinger have been able to see a fundamental scientific approach in the epistemology and methodology of the Upanishads.

 

A further elaboration of the Science of the Absolute along these lines is full of promise and the best approach in treating the remaining chapters is the same as indicated by Schroedinger. Numerous examples can be found in the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads where the same schematic generalized and universalized abstraction retains the living dynamism implied in spiritual progress. There is also the reference in the Bhagavad Gita (VIII.17) to a day and night of Brahma:

"Those who know that a day of Brahma is a thousand unit periods in the cosmic cycle, and the night of a thousand (such) units, they are understanders of the day and night (principle)."

 

The separating of day and night into such long periods is purposely done for their generalization and abstraction in universal terms, while they still retain their full phenomenal implications. A mere mathematical abstraction will not fully serve the requirements of a contemplative life. Abstractions must have their living and dynamic content. To put the conceptual and perceptual sides together and to relate individual life with the universal is always the method of the Upanishads.



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It is exactly this feature that makes it interesting to the modern scientist who prefers to replace figurative language by a more precise mathematical one. Instead of relying on vague analogies familiar within the limitations of a language like Sanskrit, the modern scientist prefers a schematic language. Many of the verses of Narayana Guru, especially those in the "Atmopadesa Satakam", reveal to us the advantages and possibilities of the use of a structurally based proto-linguistic imagery to reveal the dynamisms in the contemplative Self. Verses 17, 50, and 76 speak for themselves:

"Suffering-filled, with petals five and tiers two,
Rotating beginningless, such a lamp hanging,
The Self in shadow form, it burns, with prior habit traits
For oil, and function verily for wick.


With earth and water, air and fire likewise,
Also the great void, the ego, cognition and mind,
All worlds including the waves and ocean too,
Do they all arise and to awareness change.


Nature is water, the body, foam, the Atma (Self) the deep
The constant "I", "I", rumbling within, the magic of waves.
Pearls they are each flowering of knowledge from within,
And what one drinks of oneself, indeed the nectar of immortal bliss."


The pattern implied in the dynamism is always the same, but we have also to imagine the processes taking place at different levels of immanence or transcendence. When the Self contemplates the Self we have the most centralized of dynamisms. When the Self contemplates the cosmological aspect of itself we have a fully positive and transcendental version. The counterparts have their positions like two points on the plus side of the vertical axis. The counterparts can be contemplated in reverse order and the positive cosmos reduced in terms of the Self within. A reversible process of renormalization is legitimate within the scope of this chapter, and it is always the Self that contemplates the Self because of the impossibility of anything else taking place.



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Immanent aspects of Self-contemplation are referred to when the relation between husband and wife is brought in, a relation in which the bipolarity of the counterparts is quite clear. The value implied in this is not fully transcendental or vertical in content. What is lost in the vertical is gained in the horizontal and vice-versa. Even the horizontal as a universal concrete value-factor is not outside the scope of the Absolute when thought of in its more abstract and universal implications.

 

Thus, everywhere the same Absolute is implied. In the verse referring to loyalty to an administrator of justice we touch on matters of practical everyday import. Here the absolute value remains still the same. The bipolarity between the items always marks the differential between two points of a vertical axis, and whatever horizontalized elements might enter into the situation are merely compensatory in character. When thought of thus in the most schematic terms, all duality and contradiction are abolished. Like water poured into water, to use a favourite example of the Upanishads, horizontal and vertical values become indistinguishable. Such are some of the features we should keep in mind in these last three chapters. Herein is the uha-poha (the double process of dialectical thinking) that Sankara says is so necessary for a contemplative in the context of atmavidya or the Science of the Self.



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3. THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS AND AESTHETICS

Both ethics and aesthetics are based on appreciation of value. These two aspects of philosophy have been the subject-matter of much speculation in the West. Philosophy in the past 500 years or so began with an inquiry into this existent reality. In classical times notions such as the Highest Good were included in ethics by Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and others. With the divorce of philosophy and religion, ethical subjects began to be treated more as a part of religion. Only the ontological aspects of reality interested philosophers in deriving standards for a good life without God.

 

It can also be traced to the spontaneous natural conditioning of human beings based on their natural preferences. The individual and society in the West have an ethics which can be viewed from historical, sociological, psychological or axiological perspectives. The extensive literature on this subject with rival theories put forward by different thinkers make the subject very complicated indeed. Some authors take several volumes to expound their ideas. In spite of this vast body of literature, the subject still remains vague. Special chairs are established in universities in order to clarify the various issues involved. Oxford and Cambridge have taken rival sides in this apparently unending controversy.

 

Aesthetics comes into the picture by the same axiological right, although obligation in art is not so binding as in ethics or religion as practiced within society in general. Standards in art exercise their influence on the prevailing prices of art products, sometimes making old masters as well as modern innovators very costly. The same basic axiology regulates ethics and aesthetics whether connected with social duties, religion or not. It is in this overall sense that Narayana Guru indirectly brings in a discussion of the basic principles regulating both morality and art. What is important to note is that he is able to treat all values together. He does not treat them as divorced from contemplative Self-realization. One and the same correlating parameter runs through all ethical and aesthetic values alluded to in this chapter.



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Since the kingdom of God is capable of being placed in the human heart, Self-contemplation in principle also covers all varieties of religious devotion. It is in the Self that all value appreciation becomes possible. It must follow as the night follows day that it is by being true to oneself that one can avoid being false to any man, as Shakespeare puts it. Every form of virtue implies a subject and an object and an implicit Truth-Value. One is loyal either to a religion or a state, or to one's partner in life. Such loyalty implies obligation when horizontal interests prevail.

 

In purer forms of morality, within the natural inclinations for the good life, the categorical imperative coincides with the natural urge to equate the Self and the non-Self aspects of value. Hedonistic pleasures and utilitarian ideas of welfare, as in doing the greatest good to the greatest number, fade into the background of insignificant human values in the light of the wholesale Happiness resulting from the identification of the Self with the non-Self in a supremely contemplative context. Weak though the interests based on obligation are, still, they deserve to be given their due place in any complete scheme where ethical and aesthetic interests are meant to be covered in an overall context of Self-contemplation. Miscellaneous loyalties without which human life cannot bring any happiness are also examined by Narayana Guru under the same schematic perspective. Of all these loyalties or interests, the one important verity to be noticed is that there is no reference to any forbidden fruit or original sin, which is left out of the scheme altogether. The text openly says that it is svananda or Self-happiness that constitutes the stuff even of the happiness implied in sensual interests or vishayas (V.7). All secondary happiness, however, has to be derived from its possibility which can reside only in the absolute Self because the duality between the Self and the non-Self is only apparent. Sin is thus relegated to the limbo of the absurd and not to be taken notice of. This is because the Science of the Absolute has no place for the absurd. Its omission is the respect we pay to it. There is however an incidentally passing reference to forbidden acts in Verse 10 whose indirectness is note-worthy.



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The first verse of this chapter defines bhakti as referring to the joy of Self-knowledge. The last verse closes the brackets between the two limits. There is a descending movement pertaining to systems of axiological interest, always retaining the same vertico-horizontal structure. The reference to father and mother together in Verse 9 suggests two functions of equal importance, both of which demand the same degree of loyalty. Even here it is possible to place the claims of the father above the mother in as much as the latter is more intimately related to the contemplative context.

 

On careful scrutiny it is seen that there is a consistent unitive treatment of all items implying the Self or the non-Self. The last verse further underlines how on every level it is necessary not to mix relative with absolute loyalties. Absolute loyalty belongs to the order of the categorical imperative and is all-inclusive in character. It is justly given its unique status and final mention.



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4. EASTERN AND WESTERN NORMS FOR A GOOD LIFE

The two proverbial sayings, "from the East light", (ex Oriente lux) and "from the West, law", (ex Occidente lex) point their arrows in opposite directions. Eastern ethics and aesthetics point the way to the final good through the notions of yajna (sacrifice), dana (gifts), and tapas (austerity). These refer to a life of contemplation and emancipation through detachment and renunciation. It is not society that is primarily involved in this view of life. Society is something to be shunned and only the purest activity in the form of an aspiration for union with the Absolute is to be looked on with favour.

The four stages of life (asramas) have drawn from Paul Deussen the comment that, "The entire history of mankind does not produce much that approaches in grandeur to this thought." (1)
 
These four stages are brahmacharya (student life), grihastha (life of a householder), vanaprastha (life of a forest dweller), and sannyasa (life of full renunciation of society). They mark the ascent of the Self to final liberation. The three disciplines of yajna, dana, and tapas are to be observed in stricter forms of behaviour or thought and behaviour as one climbs from stage to stage. They represent a progressive verticalization of tendencies. Finally the duality between the aspiring Self and the Self aspired for become identical. The whole progress is generally represented in spiritual literature as taking place within the household of a guru (spiritual teacher) or in the ashram (contemplative retreat) of a sannyasin.

 

The cardinal sins when incidentally referred to in contemplative texts of India happen to be only those that are possible in a life of isolation within forest schools and contemplative retreats. The householder who lives in a large town does not normally come into the picture, and it is the message of the forest rather than the message of civic life that is reflected in the ethics and aesthetics of the Upanishads.
 

The history of ethics and aesthetics in the West has its beginnings in the civilizations of the Greeks and Romans. The Athenian city-state had an abstract personality and a body politic of its own, exercising its sovereignty and waging wars with other cities.



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Roman law, the model for modern laws, was infused with a sense of justice for every free-born citizen. Thus the pattern was set for the administration of unit groups of people called states where responsibility and duty had a regulative influence on freedom and full liberty. Rights and responsibilities were conceived on the basis of certain relational implications recognized between ruler and ruled. Greek and Roman civilization were offered as models to the rest of Europe. Christianity influenced Europe before Greek and Roman civilization entered public life there. One could be a very good Christian and at the same time take part in the administration of the Inquisition. A vertical sense of justice was not neutralized nor regulated by its horizontal implications so as to harmonize and administer uniform justice. Thus there were two sources of religion and morality and a fourfold pattern wherein closed and static as against open and dynamic ethics and religious virtues had to live and move and regulate each other as best they could, resulting in the darkness of the middle ages.

 

We need to remember that all norms of the ancient regime dominated by Christian morals were rudely shaken up by the Renaissance and the French Revolution, when both ethics and aesthetics were subjected to drastic changes. The names of Rousseau and Voltaire are ever associated with the French Revolution. Voltaire's voice was vitriolic and satirical, and his "Candide" was one of the most effective works discrediting European Christian standards and other forms of superstition. He was the harbinger of the Age of Enlightenment, but it is really to Rousseau we have to go if we want to trace the theoretical and more philosophical aspects of this new attitude. His "Contrat Social" and "Emile" have become classics of world importance.



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Unlike Voltaire, Rousseau was sentimental and romantic. What he wrote had an oriental touch where public justice and personal integrity harmoniously entered to make a healthy and normal form of life. He stood for a universal virtue applicable to all humanity regardless of culture, religion or nationality. He not only wrote about citizenship in the "Contrat Social", but also dealt with education in "Emile". His economic theories are found in many of his writings and the relationship between man and woman, as well as teacher and pupil, are dealt with in "Emile" and other works. Schopenhauer, who admired the Upanishads, also admired "Emile". He considered both these works among the five most important books he ever read. Kant also had great respect for him and he had a large portrait of Rousseau hanging in his room. Others who were influenced by Rousseau were Shelley, Baudelaire and Thomas Jefferson. Rousseau had a theory of value similar to that of the Guru in this work. It is true that Rousseau is still not fully understood by the generality of European thinkers, but there is no mistaking that his writings made a profound impression on the best thinkers of his time. In the literary and musical world both George Sand and Chopin had genuine admiration for him.
 
Nonetheless people like Voltaire still ridiculed him as one who asked human beings to retrace their steps back to the animal kingdom.

 

In his "Contrat Social" we find rudiments of both a public and private morality where Eastern standards could be seen to blend harmoniously with Western ones. The references by Narayana Guru in this chapter to administrators of justice, parents, gurus (spiritual teachers) etc. establish a link between East and West in the norms of ethics. Narayana Guru, like Rousseau, succeeds in pointing the way to a universal absolutist standard of ethics and aesthetics.



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In Rousseau's "Emile", negative education is the first education imparted to the student. A positive and pragmatic form comes later. There are many features in this negative form of education that resemble the life of a brahmachari or typical Indian student. Emile and his teacher are also represented as being related on the same bipolar lines meant to be preserved between guru (spiritual teacher) and sishya (pupil) in India. They have to be devoted to each other and consider themselves inseparable throughout the process of education. In Emile a reference is made to his apprenticeship under a carpenter. Even when so apprenticed to another craftsman instructor, Rousseau thinks it important that the normal preceptor should also be present in the workshop. This is because he does not want the continuity and bipolarity between teacher and pupil to be disrupted in the process or education. The essence of devotion to one's spiritual teacher, or guru bhakti, is thus dominant in the educational theory of Rousseau.

 

The relation between the woman type represented by Sophie and Emile as the man reveals this same bipolarity. Emile is supposed to be an orphan and therefore the relation between him and his parents does not figure in this work, but it can be easily presupposed that in a normal situation where education was not the main purpose, Rousseau would have recommended the same bipolarity between parents and progeny.

 

By including loyalty to teachers and parents as a necessary item under devotion, Narayana Guru covers all other possible contingencies in the world of ethical relationships. Rousseau's relations with his own father and mother bear touching testimony to the bipolarity and whole-heartedness of his domestic and filial life. This is brought out in his well-known "Confessions". Patriotism for Rousseau is not just a political sentiment, but rather one that he was taught to cultivate by his own father, who was supposed to have had a great love for his country. Patriotism came to Rousseau in a purified form as an inheritance of a noble sentiment vertically transferred from father to son and not horizontally as in modern politics from group rivalries.



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5. DEMOCRACY AND CITIZENSHIP

Rousseau's "Contrat Social" contains a social and political theory wherein the two contracting parties are the citizen and the sovereign state. The rights of the ruler and the privileges of the ruled are not unilaterally derived. There is no principle of "might is right" and no-one is to be permitted to take away another´s freedom, or to give him another a kind of freedom amounting to slavery. The tyrant's right even in times of war is also questioned from the first principles of human justice.

 

Rousseau is able to bring to light a new and civilized relationship between the two contracting parties. He disagrees with Grotius and others, saying it is wrong to argue as they do from effect to cause. Rousseau finds all arguments of this type objectionable, as he wishes to give equal importance to ruler and ruled. Whatever the form of government, this bilateral contract or agreement is the only political formula that can bring about general happiness and the good of all. This formula is also stated in the famous dictum, "All for one and one for all". There is a symmetrical reciprocity or complementarity in both political and social duties and privileges.

 

Democracy is a modern form of government originating from classical times and its success or failure is still being tested. Whatever the formula may be for guiding states, any kind of one-sidedness will eventually lead to oligarchy, mob-rule or worse evils.



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Again, a balance between the two counterparts which can be thought of in terms of the Self and the non-Self is involved here, whether in the individual or collective context of human life. The bhakti of this chapter is a conciliation of the Self with its own dialectical counterpart, the non-Self. Rousseau's ethics do not resemble those of Nichomachus, Aristotle, Machiavelli, nor even those found in Plato's "Republic" where slavery is tolerated. It has an absolutist presupposition.

The three watchwords of the French Revolution, "liberty, equality and fraternity", are derived from Rousseau's first principles underlined in the "Contrat Social". The full implications of these watchwords belong to a Science of the Absolute such as the one Narayana Guru always keeps in mind here. There is no direct evidence by which we can prove this claim from the writings of Rousseau but one has only to scrutinize carefully some of his paragraphs to see how his arguments bear a resemblance to the way of thinking found in the Upanishads.

 

The general good and the good of all are two value factors which have to interchange their essences to result in the happiness of a perfectly run political unit or city-state. Such a city-state need not be modeled after the Athenian city-state, because there were too many features such as slaves and citizens recognized in it.



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The same basic principles could be extrapolated and be applied on a world scale, especially because the basic needs of Humanity are always the same. The "Social Contract" therefore contains some basic principles stated in nuclear form for adoption by any future world government. The following paragraphs explaining its basic implications justifies what we have said above. Rousseau writes (in Book 1, Chapter 6):

"Each gives himself to everybody, so that, in the third place, he gives himself to nobody; and since every associate acquires over every associate the same power he grants to every associate over himself, each gains an equivalent for all that he loses, together with greater power to protest what he possesses."
 
If, then, we exclude from the social contract everything not essential to it, we shall find that it reduces itself to the following terms:

"Each of us puts into the common pool, and under the sovereign control of the general will, his person and all his power. And we, as a community, take each member unto ourselves as an indivisible part of the whole." (2)

 
The emphasis on the totality of the situation so evident in the above quotation, treated together with its sound and universally valid philosophical basis, makes such a formula applicable at all levels to governments big or small, local or global, religious or secular. The structural features remain intact and it is possible to think of a pre-established harmony between unit-states. This is like the monads of Leibniz where all monads are comprised under a Monad of monads. There is a complementarity of vertical and horizontal value factors in every case and when scientifically conceived, the possibility of a world government cannot be ruled out. The only question is whether humanity will be able to understand this in a normalized and scientific way without exaggerations or distortions of the central verity.



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6. THE CITY OF GOD

The transition from an ancient City-state of man to a Christian City of God was a natural one in European history. The Good Shepherd, the King or Father on High represent God placed at various levels in a simple and universal pattern of thought having essentially the same structure. The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man are always implied. There is a New Jerusalem involved in each of these contexts.

 

One can belong to the Kingdom of God as naturally as one belongs to any state with a ruler and its laws. Even when in Islam the term "Father" was substituted by the term referring to a most high God, a prophet was still needed here on earth to represent his will. Likewise in so-called atheistic religions such as Buddhism, the Buddha is abstracted and elevated to the status of an embodiment of all dharma (righteous way of life) treated as a total idea.

 

The simple family-unit has offered the structural pattern for all of them, and when the same analogy is extended to a sub-human level we see in animal life that the same relations between ruler and ruled persist. A scientific mind will not find it difficult to extract the same structural pattern however varied the actualities of the units compared might be.

 

When this common structural pattern is kept in mind it will not be difficult for us to enter into a comparison of two important theologians of the Christian Church. The first is St. Augustine and the other is St. Thomas Aquinas. We could take these as representative of the theology of the Christian world. Between them we can find some of the most subtle theological arguments within whose range most other Christian theologies could be covered as particular instances.

 

St. Augustine, who wrote about the "City of God", was greatly influenced by Plato. His system of spiritual values refers to the Platonic world of the Intelligibles as hypostatic entities to be attained through Christian citizenship in the City of God. This does not mean that St. Augustine neglected the real and empirical aspects of life. In his own way he admitted them into a total homogeneous scheme where every reality is first reduced in terms of illuminated entities and then made to articulate or participate within a structural whole. The soundness of his methodology is what constitutes his recommendation as a theologian.



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There is no mistaking that he put more emphasis on hypostatic values than on those of earth. This asymmetry of accentuation of values was somewhat corrected by St. Thomas Aquinas many centuries later.

 

St. Thomas devoted 15 years of his writings to the elaboration of a revised Aristotelian point of view as against the dominant neo-Platonism of his time. By his subtle arguments he was able to reconcile the two positions in his own way. This enabled him to give to the critical and reasoning faculty its own rightful place in understanding and adoring God. We can generalize and say that Aquinas' position was nearer to a City where an intelligent man could worship God without surrendering much of his reasoning. It was rather a city in God than one merely of God. Both were caused by God for God.

 

Thus we have two distinct levels even within Christian theology where two cities, one more hypostatic than the other, come into interaction in the same way as the Self and the non-Self are reciprocally related to each other. There can be model Cities resembling one or the other of these two possibilities. Thomas More was beheaded by the King of England for taking sides in favour of a heavenly ruler to the exclusion of an earthly one. His book "Utopia" has not been taken seriously by others, although it contained as noble an idea as Augustine's work itself. The same kind of disaster could occur when the state is against the church, as amply revealed in the history of England during the time of Henry VIII or his daughter Mary. Value cities, whether for man or God, must fit into an overall structural whole so as to make sense whether in politics or religion.



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The Church and the State have generally been rivals in Christian Europe and the battle is not yet over. What interests us in the present context is the fact that there are many structural patterns possible between a natural and simple family pattern of life where children respect the head of the family and the high ideal of a spiritual Father of humanity, whether conceived in actual or imaginary terms. We can put such an abstract principle as the Father on a vertical axis of reference. This can be done either in a simple unit fashion such as in the notion of the family, or in a more universalized and extrapolated version. The more scientifically minded we are the more we think in terms of generalizations and abstractions by which all possible particular instances can be comprised within the scope of one absolutism. It is always a unitive vision that is needed and if there are many units involved, the One and the Many can be cancelled out by a dialectical process permitted by modern mathematical norms of thought which were also recognized by the ancients of both the East and the West.

 

The equation of the Self with the non-Self is all that is finally involved. When rid even of the notion of Fatherhood which is boldly extrapolated, all that is important is what is contained in the last verse of the present chapter where bhakti or Self-contemplation is an equation between the Self here on earth and the ultimate Self. All other Self-contemplations, loyalties, or devotions are comprised in this last and highest one. It is natural for human beings especially in times of danger, to look up to God with gratitude and thanksgiving. When the people of Geneva were saved from the danger of outside invasion their gratitude resulted in building the most important church of that city. Humanity as a city can also legitimately think of a God who is the benefactor and protector of all.



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Even when raised to the highest position possible for a God to occupy in the human heart, we have to remember that the transcendence of God is not outside the scope of human interests even of an instinctive or emotional kind. Absolute Self-contemplation is not limited even to human interests and it is to underline this basic difference that Narayana Guru, in the last verse, refers to such contemplation as ultimate and not to be mixed up with lesser ones belonging to a different order. It is important always to remember from the foregoing that it is not one-sided attention to the claims of man over God or God over man that is important, but rather a normalization of both with reference to a central unitive and neutral Absolute.
 

 

7. SELF-CONTEMPLATION AS A VALUE

Although several items of value have been referred to as constituting together the totality of Self-contemplation or bhakti, Narayana Guru, in Verse 8, points out the comprehensive and inclusive character of bhakti as a supreme contemplative value. It is neither to be treated as an end nor as a means. Instead, both meet together in one absolute value. In the proper context of a Science of the Absolute the various bipolar relations enumerated in this chapter have to be treated as one global unit in terms of general awareness. In this sense, aesthetic and religious values are without any difference of grade. In every situation in life the person of right understanding is able to feel the joy of this overall awareness, resulting from the cancellation of all duality between the Self and the joy constituting its essential attribute.

 

Contemplation as an absolute value has no frontiers and cannot be thought of as belonging only to the religious or aesthetic walks of life. It is only when the constitutive elements are comprised within a global and generous attitude that Self-contemplation prevails. When this is understood, the way of bhakti becomes as respectable as any other discipline. Sankara in the "Vivekachudamani" commends bhakti as the highest of "means for attaining liberation" (moksha-sadhana-samagri). Narayana Guru also says the same thing without calling it a means. Self-contemplation has to be absolute if it is to have this high respectability in the proper context of the Science of the Absolute.



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8. RELIGIOUS EXPRESSIONS OF SELF-CONTEMPLATION

We have made it sufficiently clear that religious sentiment as seen in the Western world is generally linked with the Church. Almost every religious contemplative belongs to some church institution. In the climate of Europe it is not possible to live in a forest hermitage as easily as did the mystics and sages of ancient India. In the same way, just as the piano is normal to the European music room, so the drum is normal to the Indian open air. We have always to make allowances for geographical considerations even when contemplation is in question.

 

Western Church mystics think normally in terms of being citizens in the kingdom of God. Western thinkers, however much they might love freedom of thought, were obliged to keep a sharp lookout for ecclesiastical and civic wrath. In the West an individual religious mystic on his own is almost unthinkable; while the freedom known to Indian mystics knows no limit. In India every stone may be dressed and anointed and could be the beginning of a temple. Even if someone denies God, he will never be persecuted in India because there is no centralized religious organization exercising authority over its followers.



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The difference of expressions in contemplative life have, therefore, to be viewed with due allowances made to historical and geographical circumstances. The Indian contemplative never thinks in terms of national citizenship, but instead adheres to some abstraction in the name of groups, or else even disregards this and does not conform to any kind of particular religious pattern of behaviour. The majority of sannyasins in India fall into this latter category. They are completely open-minded, being attached to no closed institution, and are free to seek their life´s fulfilment in their own way without any outside interference.

 

If we content ourselves only with pure contemplative life without mixing up the personalities of Christian mystics with the actual institutions they belonged to, it is possible to select a few examples among them helping to shed some light on the high value of Self-contemplation. There is a certain glow of living vitality in the life of many of these mystics which seems to be almost completely absent in Indian mysticism. We have already examined the interesting case of Joan of Arc whose mysticism was openly patriotic. There are similar feelings for the church which could be called religious loyalty. It is true that the glow of enthusiasm for such ideals as democracy gives to such expressions a more pragmatic character. This does not mean however that all mysticism should be included under this glowing form that philosophers like Bergson prefer. The frontiers of mysticism reach far beyond the scope of pragmatism and vitalism and in the last two chapters we shall be dealing with these higher forms which have nothing to do with religious feelings or group loyalties as such.

 

The Self and the non-Self enter into a reciprocal relationship in which the joy or bliss of the contemplation of the Absolute constitutes a form of pure delight, of which the mathematician or scientist is also capable. The delight does not suffer in dignity because of its purity, and spiritual life has to include all forms of value whether they refer to human progress or not. Just as beauty and art can be for their own sake, so too a high contemplative value can be a pearl of great value. As the Bhagavad Gita (II.40) puts it, "even a little of this way of life saves one from great fear".



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Such pure values have their own importance outside mere utilitarianism and pragmatism. Even in the Western world there are some pure contemplative mystics who are not committed to Christian orthodoxy. They can be considered representatives of a higher level of mysticism compatible with the spirit of science. We shall come to some of them in the last two chapters. Now we shall pass in review some instances of Christian religious mysticism which fit into the content of this present chapter as approximately as possible.

 
Our first two selections are from active mystics and servants of the Church endowed with a sense of doing good. St. Catherine of Genoa and St. Catherine of Sienna were dedicated to a contemplative life of prayer and fasting as well as looking after the sick and needy. In Roman Catholic circles they are held in high esteem because their way of life correctly conforms to the life of true Christian charity and saintliness. A careful scrutiny of their writings, however, reveals that their piety was not of the usual kind but had touches of deeper mystical feeling and insight.



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St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) has been described by Evelyn Underhill as, "one who was at once an eager lover and an indomitable doer. More: she was a constructive mystic, a profound thinker as well as an ecstatic: an original teacher and a busy and practical philanthropist". (3)
 
St. Catherine of Genoa was both a practical mystic as well as one capable of deeper insight as we can gather from the following quotations:

"We must not wish anything other than what happens from moment to moment, all the while, however, exercising ourselves in goodness. I will have nothing to do with a love which would be for God or in God. This is a love which pure love cannot abide; for pure love is God Himself". (4)

 

St. Catherine of Siena (1380-1444) was earlier than St. Catherine of Genoa, but her own teaching and way of life greatly influenced the latter.

We read the following:

 
"Thou (the human being) art that which is not. I am that I am. If thou perceivest this truth in thy soul, never shall the enemy deceive thee; thou shalt escape all his snares. When we conceive the love of suffering, we lose the sensibility of the senses and dead, dead we will live in that garden." (5)


St. Theresa of Avila (1615-1582) belongs to a group of mystics who were more profoundly steeped in contemplative mysticism. She also worked hard establishing new orders for her Carmelite nuns. Her autobiography reveals a life that alternated between two levels, one more instinctive than the other. She was highly capable of analyzing her own feelings and her writings therefore have a great value inasmuch as they reveal the agonies of a soul torn between a life under the sway of instincts and one on a higher level of spiritual life. Roman Catholic circles always refer to St. Theresa with great respect, as representing the highest model of mystical expression acceptable to the Church. St Theresa speaks about "serving God in justice" in the following:

 

"Let everyone understand that real love of God does not consist in tear-shedding, nor in that sweetness and tenderness for which usually we long, just because they console us, but in serving God in justice, fortitude of soul and humility. (6)

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Next, we read St. Theresa´s "Four Degrees (or Stages) of Prayer" where we can easily recognize the broad features of our own idea of structuralism. We read:

"We may say that beginners in prayer are those who draw the water up out of the well; which is a great labour, as I have said. For they find it very tiring to keep the senses recollected, when they are used to a life of distraction.

Let us now turn to the second method of drawing it which the Owner of the plot has ordained. By means of a device with a windlass, the gardener draws more water with less labour, and so is able to take some rest instead of being continuously at work. I apply this description to the prayer of quiet ....

Let us now speak of the third water that feeds this garden, which is flowing water from a stream or spring. This irrigates it with far less trouble, though some effort is required to direct it to the right channel. But now the Lord is pleased to help the gardener in such a way as to be, as it were, the gardener Himself ...


The soul does not know what to do; it cannot tell whether to speak or be silent, whether to laugh or to weep. It is a glorious bewilderment, a heavenly madness, in which true wisdom is acquired, and to the soul a fulfilment most full of delight.

In this state (i.e. the fourth state) the soul still feels it is not altogether dead, as we may say, though it is entirely dead to the world. But, as I have said, it retains the sense to know that it is still here and to feel its solitude; and it makes use of outward manifestations to show its feelings, at least by signs.

How what is called union takes place and what it is, I cannot tell. It is explained in mystical theology, but I cannot use the proper terms: I cannot understand what mind is, or how it differs from soul or spirit. They all seem one to me."



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St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) also attains to a high degree of mystical awareness. He was contemporary with St. Theresa of Avila and was for a time her co-worker. His precise psychological descriptions of mystical states have probably been his most important asset as a mystical writer. He has served as a guide for many future mystics and Churchmen. God, Christ, the Church and the Soul are all for him interchangeable terms within a structural frame of reference conceived along the lines of a spiritual ascent. This ascent has been described in great detail by St. John of the Cross, where stages such as the "double night" through which the soul passes is graphically represented. The "Ascent of Mount Carmel" has however to be subjected to a revaluation in order to be fitted into a complete Science of the Absolute. But as a basis for discussion of contemplative mysticism it is most interesting. St. John of the Cross represents the highest form of mysticism of a Christian character. During his own time he had great difficulties with certain factions in the Church and he was even imprisoned for a time at Toledo. Nonetheless he is now considered one of the greatest mystics of the Church. The following is from "The Conduct of Contemplative Souls":

"But if the soul is to be the recipient of this loving knowledge, it must be perfectly detached, calm, peaceful, and serene, as God is: it must be like the atmosphere, which the sun illumines and warms in proportion to its calmness and purity. Thus the soul must be attached to nothing, not even to meditation, not to sensible or spiritual sweetness, because God requires a spirit free and annihilated for every act of the soul, even of thought, of liking and disliking which will hinder and disturb it and break that profound silence of sense and spirit necessary for hearing the deep and soft voice of God." (7)



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This next quotation is a poem showing how the soul arrives at union with God by the path of spiritual negation. We read:

"Upon a gloomy night,
With all my cares to loving ardours flushed,
(O venture of delight!)
With nobody in sight
I went abroad when all my house was hushed.

 
In safety, in disguise,
In darkness up the secret stair I crept,
(O happy enterprise!)
Concealed from other eyes,
When all my house at length in silence slept.

 
Upon a lucky night
In secrecy, inscrutable to sight,
I went without discerning
And with no other light
Except for that which in my heart was burning.

 
It lit and led me through
More certain than the light of noonday clear
To where One waited near
Whose presence well I knew,
There where no other presence might appear.

 
Oh night that was my guide!
Oh darkness dearer than the morning's pride,
Oh night that joined the lover
To the beloved bride
Transfiguring them each into the other.



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Within my flowering breast
Which only for himself entire I save
He sank into his rest
And all my gifts I have
Lulled by the airs with which the cedars wave.

 
Over the ramparts fanned
While the fresh wind was fluttering his tresses,
With his serenest hand
My neck he wounded, and
Suspended every sense with its caresses.

 
Lost to myself I stayed
My fate upon my lover having laid
From all endeavour ceasing:
And all my cares releasing
Threw them among the lilies there to fade." (8)

 

In clarifying the Christian mystics, it is not easy to follow any strict line of demarcation because some expressions co-exist within others. We have already quoted the Sufis and the highest of Christian mysticism. Eckhart, Law, Boehme, etc., are only Church Christians if you want to include them. They themselves would not object to this, but there is in all of them a non-exclusiveness of attitude. The reader will profit if he refers back to them in Chapter. They can also be included here in this chapter.



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FOOTNOTES

 

[1] Deussen,Phil. Up., p.367.

 

[2] J. Rousseau, "The Social Contract", ed., Chicago, 1954, pp.19-20.

 

[3] A. Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy", Collins Fontana ed., London, 1963, pp.114 and 95, resp.

 

[4] Huxley, pp.171 and 237 resp.

 

[5] Huxley, p.95

 

[6] St. Theresa of Avila, "The Interior Castle", trans. J.Cohen, Penguin ed., London.

 

[7] St. John of the Cross, "The Mystical Doctrine of St. John of the Cross", trans. D.Lewis, London, 1948, p.127.

 

[8] St. John of the Cross, ibid.