Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton



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Part of the difficulty was to regulate human intercourse with the spiritual realm. This difficulty became acute in the prophetic sphere. Attending to prophets was no small matter. As a rule of thumb, the only good prophet was a dead prophet. The medium of prophecy could best be regulated in scriptural fashion, after the fact. As the scriptural tradition matured, the bar for admission to prophetic status could be continually raised. Despite these precautions, it was not difficult for many individuals to successfully invoke the spirits in times of social crisis. Charisma can never be completely routinized.
Where the role of God has been diffused, as in the pantheist tradition, the concept of the God within, or even identification with God, will be rather less problematic than in a monotheist culture. In the latter case, messianism can be endemic and demanding of vigilance on the part of the powers that be. Ridicule is usually the best antidote, but, at times, messianism becomes no laughing matter.

[1/14]
I will readily admit to being surprised to learn that Brahman has a personal aspect, as well as an impersonal aspect. I had plain forgotten that Brahma is the Hindu creator god. It is then more difficult to rationalize the Hindu departure from the concept of a monotheist, and presumably singular, act of Creation. First it might be useful to examine how the Buddhists depart from these Hindu teachings. And while we're at it, I am still lacking a clear understanding of why the monotheists embraced metaphysical dualism, while the polytheists embraced monism. It almost seems like a reciprocal compensation.


Is the Buddha's EMPTINESS the Brahmin's BRAHMAN:
In the high Hindu Vedanta teachings, the goal of the spiritual path is the realization of one's ultimate identity with Brahman, the Absolute, which is said to underlie all existence. Brahman, the indivisible, eternal, uncreated, is also called "the Deathless" -- that place beyond birth and death, beyond the world.
Gautama the Buddha was acclaimed as a challenger and radical reformer of the decaying Brahminism of his time. One of the revolutionary ideas that he taught was the doctrine of Emptiness, said to be the cornerstone of Buddhist understanding. What he meant by Emptiness has been over the ages a source of much debate. Is Emptiness, as many believe it to be, a radical departure from the concept of the all-pervading eternal Brahman of the Vedas, or is Emptiness the Buddha's description of what is, in essence, none other than the Vedantic Brahman?
Andrew Cohen:
Shankara, the celebrated eighth century Indian teacher and founder of Vedantic nondualism or Advaita (not two) philosophy, from which many of the main currents of modern Indian thought are derived, referred to that which is absolute as "pure consciousness" or "fullness." Yet Gautama the Buddha is famous for declaring that that which is absolute is "emptiness" or "voidness."
There does seem to be some confusion.
And if two of the most respected authorities in Indian spiritual philosophy seem to disagree on the most fundamental definition of that which is absolute, the experiential discovery of which is supposed to be "enlightenment," then what are we to do? If in fact Shankara and the Vedantic philosophers are correct in their declaration that that which is ultimate, and therefore absolute, is fullness or pure consciousness, then should this lead us to conclude that enlightenment is the experiential discovery of what is referred to in the West as "God" or "Love" or "Christ-consciousness"? Does that mean that ultimately there is something, the realization of which will set us free? If Gautama the Buddha was truly the Enlightened One, then does that mean that his doctrine of emptiness, stating that the absolute nature of all things is emptiness or voidness, implies that God does not exist? Does the experiential discovery of emptiness reveal to us that there is ultimately nothing, and will that discovery set us free?
Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana:
Then there were the Upanishadic teachers who adopted a different approach. They were metaphysicians who believed not in a Supreme-Godhead but in a universal principle - a highly metaphysical concept. This they called the Brahman, the universal soul, the matrix of everything. As a corollary to Brahman, they metaphysically conceived of an individual soul, an Atman, which is a replica of the Brahman, believed to be residing in all beings. These Upanishadic sages believed that the key to solving the human problem lies in the realisation of the undifferentiated Brahman-Atman identity, which has to be attained through the path of knowledge [...]
The Buddha discarding theology adopted psychology [the best psychology is no psyche!], instead of being theocentric He was anthropocentric. Through this non-traditional approach He understood the problems of man, how they are caused, how they could be solved and the way leading to their solution in a way never heard of before. His analysis enlightened him with regard to the truth that dukkha is not something thrust upon in by some external force, but our own creation and therefore lying within ourselves. From this He concludes that the solution too has to sought within ourselves. [...]
The central philosophy of Buddhism is called paticca samuppada. It rejects the view that everything happens either due to a creator, or fate or chance or karma. Everything happens due to causes and conditions and the Buddha explained these causes and conditions. [...]
This is that man has no Soul or Self, he has no lasting permanent entity. This went against the accepted teaching of the time. There is an entity in Indian philosophy called "Purusha" which is also known as "Prkrti". Some said that this "Purusha" or "Prkrti" is the source of the world and all in it.
This very same "Purusha" or "Prkrti" was introduced by some thinkers as "Brahman" or "Paramatman". Everything has originated from the Paramatman with a "Small Atman" in each of them. It is an entity which is eternal, unchanging, omnipresent and indestructible. Through realization of that eternal entity and individual becomes one with it. This is known as "Moksha" (freedom).
The Buddha, however, rejected the concept of both Brahman and Atman and put forward His own teaching of No Atman, or Anatta. What we call a person or an individual is combination of five aggregates; physical body, feelings, perceptions, mental activity and consciousness. But there is no self existing, ego-entity, soul or atman or any other abiding substance within this physical and mental phenomenon of existence or even outside of them.
The Buddha's teaching also had widespread effects on the structure of society encouraging people to question some of the assumptions on which that society was based, specially with regard to caste and status of women. [...]
The above account clearly shows why Buddhism could be rightly called a teaching that motivated its followers to swim against the current, not to pray and supplicate external forces, but to engage in introspection, strive and bring a total revolution within.
It seems that Siddhartha was putting forward an existential philosophy.
I have referred to the Matrix as pure potentiality, or pure potency, if you will. In this sense it is not something substantial. If our reunion with the Christos is substantial, then our personal identity becomes less so. Our personal identity is relative to the Christos. Only the dialectic of M&X is eternal or primordial, all else is derivative.
Bijoy H. Boruah:
In contemporary philosophical parlance, the Advaita Vedantin would be a realist about the self and the Buddhist an anti-realist about the same thing. This is surely a radical ontological antinomy. But what is surprising is that despite such an ontological antinomy the two systems of thought have a more or less common "metaphysic of transcendence" or a transformative teleology. They each believe in the possibility of ultimate human liberation or enlightenment. The ultimate liberation (Moksa) of Advaita Vedanta and the ultimate enlightenment (Nirvana) of Buddhism are in essence similar notions of attainment of salvation or final freedom from the quagmire of human bondage. How would one reconcile the fact that the two systems share a basically similar metaphysic of salvation[!] with the fact that they are arch opponents on the issue of the ontology of the self?
Me too, w.r.t. salvation!
Apparently, it would be absurd to profess total self-denial while admitting ultimate liberation because the experience of liberation, being enduring as well as unitary, presupposes an experiencer of some sort. We would do well not to short-circuit the Buddhist position into plain absurdity and examine whether there really is no sense of self-affirmation in the overall metaphysical stance of Buddhism. [...]
I think that a reconciliatory philosophical reconsideration of the ancient debate between Buddhism and Vedanta would yield a picture in which the two systems would be seen as being complementary to each other. With this intent I shall start from the Vedantic angle to show that the concept of Atman is compatible with that of Sunyata. [...]
Furthermore, Sunyata is not abhava or non-existence, but held to be the ultimate ground of everything, the utmost original condition of reality prior to all conceptualization and phenomenal distortion. It is characterized as pregnant emptiness, vibrant void. Cast in terms of consciousness, Sunyata is a state of pure consciousness that one would revert to if one were able to empty oneself of any illusory constructions or impressions of an unchanging or permanent reality, whether of things or persons. This reversal to original subjectivity, which also has an ethical import, may be interpreted as one's "becoming" Sunya or empty. But "becoming" Sunya does not mean going out of existence. Rather, one can truly be oneself, or become truly self-aware, only by "becoming" Sunya. Otherwise, one continues to be in an unawakened state---to be under the spell of Avidya.
Can we not say, now, that the Buddhist awakening in "the field of Sunyata" is most akin to the Vedantic realization of the ultimate identity of Atman with Brahman? And is not Brahman---the absolutely indeterminate (Nirguna) Ultimate Reality---itself more like a "field of Sunyata," the original ground of everything?
There does seem to be convergence on the notion of the Matrix.
What is clearly missing is an affirmation of Creation and Creator or Christos. Is it clear why? Was it a positive avoidance, or was it simply a failure to grasp the possibility?
What about the path of bhakti? Is it other than the Christian agape? Pure bhakti is objectless love. Does not the Christos figure in agape?
Scott David Foutz -- reviewing Global Philosophy of Religion by Joseph Runzo (2001):
After dispensing with the traditional rationalistic approaches, Runzo sets his sites on what he deems the non-rational or "extra-rational" elements of religious belief, namely love, faith, compassion and devotion. By grounding a philosophical argument in these extra-rational elements, which he demonstrates exist in all the major religious traditions, Runzo believes he has found the means whereby a universal demonstration of the justification of religious belief can be set forth. [...]
For purposes of discussion, Runzo lumps the non-rational elements together under the rubric of 'Love' and then develops a working definition. The term 'seraphic love' is employed to describe "the ultimate love of the Divine, as well as the human love which is modeled in the World Religions on Divine Love". Contrary to the traditional Christian habit of qualitatively distinguishing between Agape and Eros, Runzo argues that these latter are not two different types of love but rather the two poles of Seraphic love. He writes:
For we can ask what motivates agape. And the motive for agape is the passionate, devoted love which is eros. So agape and eros form a dynamic pair... Eros (or bhakti) is the dynamic pole of seraphic love which brings humans also to have agape (or egoless love).
[...] More specifically, Runzo seeks to include in his working definition six characteristics of eros, which are more fully delineated in his earlier The Meaning of Life in the World Religions. These are: relationality, surrender, vulnerability, integration, union, and equality. These interpersonal and relational elements will become critical for Runzo's argument that an ultimate religious response of seraphic love implies an Ultimate Other.
Now that we have a working definition of love, Runzo sets forth the argument whereby seraphic love is justified. He does this by introducing the discussion of values, multiple and single, extrinsic and intrinsic. Runzo here adopts Robert Nozick's (The Examined Life) definition of intrinsic value as that which is "organically unified". Runzo writes:
The degree to which something is organically unified is determined by how much diversity is being unified as well as the degree of unity that is achieved within that diversity. In short, the greatest intrinsic value results form the greatest integration of the greatest diversity. This is why human life has greater value than works of art or than plant life.
In other words, "the value of a thing is enhanced by meaning. [And] meaning comes from a thing's connectedness to other things". Within this dynamic of value and connectedness Runzo may argue that those love relationships whereby subject and object's interconnectedness increase causes or implies an increase in the individuals' intrinsic and extrinsic value. He then suggests that ultimate meaning can only be derived through connectedness to something outside ourself which is unlimited in value. This, of course, is where the Ultimate Object of justifiable religious belief is introduced. By attaching the notion of an increase of value to the act of loving, Runzo has put forth a rationale or justification for loving. And by introducing the relational aspects of eros into his definition of divine, seraphic love, Runzo finds implicit within such love an argument for God, since "the presence of love in the universe and the obligation to love implies a transcendent love". In the final pages of the book, Runzo delineates a formal "Argument For Love" whereby the causal relation between divine transcendent love and human involvement in seraphic love is laid out. I will leave the full exploration and analysis of Runzo's formulation to those who wish to read the book.
On the christian view, the path of bhakti must have the christos as its Telos. Runzo is inserting the christos into bhakti. Is bhakti thereby incomplete? It is if it neglects the world Telos in favor of the individual telos of union. One cannot escape the logic of the Incarnation. Its singularity is the necessary logical basis for the singularity of the BPW. But is the BPW hypothesis not compatible with monotheism in general? The BPW is necessarily anthropocentric. Monotheism, per se, is not. Have I not understood this crucial distinction before? Is it not obvious? But is not this parochialism usually taken to be an embarrassment to christian philosophy?
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Topical Index
1/5/04

All or Nothing



We generally try to strike a balance between freedom and commitment. We value our freedom to commit or not to commit. What I am about to suggest, however, goes against that grain. I am making an offer of all or nothing with respect to meaning, truth and, yes, existence. It is an offer which can hardly be refused. It presents an irrevocable choice, which most of us will want to, and are, postponing for as long as possible. The proposition is pretty obvious, but we have become masters at rationalizing away from the obvious.
The fragmentation of meaning, life and existence we have come to accept as part of the modern condition. The virtually unlimited choices placed before us every day represent for us the foundation of our freedom. On the other hand, there is the nagging suspicion that 'freedom' is just another word for nothing left to lose. But what is it that we have lost, amidst all of our freedom?
There is one word for that, too: meaning. Are we going to have to choose between freedom and meaning? Perhaps we just need to find a more meaningful meaning for freedom. For instance, what is the meaning of 'free will'. No one seems to know, but almost everyone has an opinion.
Chaotic and quantum systems are characterized by their unpredictable and ontologically random nature. For the materialist, this is as close to freedom as you can get. Every other 'freedom' is an illusion. Most of us find this response far from satisfactory. That's why we still have philosophers. Well, they were still there the last time I checked.
However, to say that freedom is something more than randomness is, it turns out, having to say a great deal. Very many papers and books have been written on this topic with, apparently, no one feeling that the topic has been exhausted. As you may have anticipated, I am about to add my own two cents, and I'll wager that, despite its brevity, there will be a substantial originality.
My proposition is that freedom and meaning are closely related concepts or problems, depending on your frame of mind. They are both related to the problem of reason. Reason is another word fraught with elusive significance. It has been said that we are the rational animals. We are the only animal purporting to have reasons, and do we ever! We have never been known to lack for them. Do we reason, or do we merely rationalize, more or less, after the fact. Do we just play the obligatory language game that we label as 'reasoning'? Reason, I maintain, is an all or nothing proposition. So will be meaning. Freedom? We'll just have to see about that.
Reasoning is generally teleological in essence. My proposition then is that there is no telos without a Telos, and there is no truth without Truth. Yes, there are facts. But we almost never want to tell just the facts. Just ask Joe Friday. What we almost always want to do is tell a story, and not just any story. We want, above all else, to tell 'Our' story. That is certainly what I am trying to do here. So I am also saying that there is no narrative without a Metanarrative. Now that is a bald statement. Go to the fiction section in any library or bookstore and you will see shelves full of narratives, but I'll warrant that you'll find not a single metanarrative, because right now there is only one BPW story, and we know where it is.
My bald statement becomes less bald when I say of what it is that stories are made. In the first instance, a story is a complex transaction between the teller and listener. Many norms come into play. It can be a very fine art. Perhaps it is even the only art. The most elusive aspect of the transaction is empathy. The listener must be drawn into the story, otherwise it becomes so much hot air, spilled ink or errant electrons.
OK, then, what is empathy? Just another feeling? On the last page we discussed bhakti, agape and love. Is empathy not of these? It is not easy to argue that there are any higher emotions. There are even those who have equated love with the Telos. I am one of them. And with this one twist of a phrase, I ought to be able to walk smiling into the sunset.
There is, then, only one story: the love story. All meaning, truth and existence derives from that Metanarrative. So are we free to love? Yes, and no. If so, it is our first and last freedom. That is my all or nothing proposition.
I have spoken of the Trinity: M, X & D: matrix, christos, dialectic. The dialectic is the elusive element. It is also the engine of existence. Dialectic is dialog. It is sharing in a story. It is, in the first instance, the playing out of the eternal, universal I & Thou. That is simply, then, the dialectic of empathy or love. The holy ghost is the holy spirit. It is the prime mover: Eros & Cupid. It has a thousand masks, but it is finally of one substance. It is the one legal tender in all cosmic intercourse.
Why then is D not an archetype? If it were, there could be none other. Love is jealous. It brooks no rival.

[1/16]
If meaning is reducible or analyzable, it is, at least, reducible to words. Are words reducible? I believe that it was the logical positivists, who, back in the 1920's, claimed they could reduce all meanings to 'sense data'. To some people back then, the idea sounded half-way plausible. Unfortunately, when put into practice, no one could manage even a single reduction. But, no, I believe the situation was worse than that: the logical positivists were never able to produce even a workable definition of 'sense data'. That hope of the Positivists represented the high water mark of materialism and analysis. The Artificial Intelligencers are the last bastion of 'Positivism', but they are no longer willing to engage in philosophical discussion. Daniel Dennett is their most articulate spokesperson, and even he admits that his essays are polemical and evangelical rather than philosophical.


Could any atomic theory of meaning make sense? What would be the minimum number of atoms required to produce a reasonable combinatorics of meaning? A very conservative estimate might be a hundred or so. What then are we to make of those hundred irreducible meanings? From whence did they come? Should they not have universal significance, as is alleged for the elements of math and logic? They could be likened to a finite set of prime numbers, for instance. The ontogeny of the atoms of meaning would present a metaphysical problem of the highest degree, but let us set that aside and look at another problem.
Given our hypothetical atoms of meaning, we still have the problem of context dependency. Even if the atoms themselves were context independent, this would be no guarantee that the 'molecules' of meaning would also be independent. At some level we will have to confront the Text. But can a text have a meaning, per se, given our assumption of atomicity? Texts should be epiphenomenal. The text serves no mental function beyond that of its constituent atoms. Does this make sense?
A text is a string of words. The sequence of the words will surely influence the meaning of the text. Where then is the meaning if not in the sequence? Different sequences of words signify different things. Consider the genetic sequences of DNA molecules. One sequence produces a chimp, another, slightly different one, produces a champ. Our reductionist will then argue that chimpness and champhood have no significance beyond that of their constituent atoms. But that is missing the point about the function of the DNA. A random sequence of DNA will produce nothing at all. This is nonsense DNA. Even the village reductionist cannot claim that nothing is the same as something.
What I am aiming at here is the so-called 'frame problem'. DNA remains functionless or inert without a proper biological context or frame. The same is true of language. Language requires native speakers. Native speakers require a culture. The psychological or social function of a given text will depend on the culture in which it is used. The problems of translation can be enormous, and there can be no such thing as an exact translation.
No theoretical limits may be placed on the possible scope of the frame. The more you know about the world, the more meaning you may be able to glean from or read into a text. There is no reason that an astute reader cannot perceive social subtleties unintended by the author. Authors are serving as cultural mediums as well as creators.
Textual considerations demonstrate that subtle shifts in meaning are endemic to any text. If that is true, our hypothetical atomic theory of meaning is simply not tenable. Whatever the ontology of meaning, it is not atomic. The only alternative is something organic. Now we begin to see why we have been so reluctant to give up on reductionism, despite its excruciating shortcomings. The devil we know is better than the one we don't. Better to have no meaning than organic meaning.
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