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The transcendence question and the limits of scientism //The antinomial ‘enlightenment’ question

September 23rd, 2014 · No Comments


The recent work of Harris has been discussed here several times, and below are some other reactions. Chopra puts the question in the larger context of ‘Vedism’ but unfortunately the confusions of the history of Indian religion make the ‘Vedic’ category a confusion of religious history. But Chopra’s point is clear enough in pointing to the larger context of ‘santana dharma’, the perennial philosophy/Indian branch: the debate over the illusion of self is partly a buddhist innovation, and it is perhaps more illuminating to return to the original brand of ‘self’ metaphysics at the root of the Indian tradition: the atman/brahman distinction.
More generally the puzzle of Harris’ formulation is the way he neuters the greater tradition to produce a crippled version that brands itself using science propaganda. The debate over the supernatural is misleading. The ‘supernatural’ seems to represent the depth of our ignorance of ‘spiritual basics’.

Society is controlled by thuggeries that don’t want the masses to have any inklings of ‘enlightenment’. Even Xtianity has rubbed out this dimension. The frozen cadre of American buddhists is liable to letting this happen without protest.

I fail to see how ‘enlightenment’ was eliminated from the greater tradition in the name of skepticism about the ‘supernatural’. I don’t know of any way to determine the question: the reality of enlightenment should be approached in practical terms as a potential of the human spiritual core. To say that it requires beliefs in the supernatural would be puzzling to most enlightened sages, who probably see realization as the outcome of nature. The problem remains unsolved, and insoluble in framework of current science. I, for one, do not consider issues of ‘soul’, reincarnation, and the path of enlightenment as illuminated by sterile distinctions of nature and supernature. I find it hard to assume in advance that ‘enlightenment’ ejects the realized buddha from ‘nature’. The whole drift of the ‘materialist’ Samkhya of Indian (Jain) antiquity was to ‘fudge’ this question with a ‘materialist’ embrace of the totality. Nonetheless, the statements of realized sages does tend to suggest a transcendence of ‘nature’ in some sense. I fail to see why this is such a problem for students of science.
I find it problematic to consider the realm depicted in, say, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as ‘supernature’. Everything here suggests the artificial nature of any such division. The real issue of ‘supernature’ is the much larger question of cosmology in time: the big bang (whose status is currently in flux) issues, which automatically generate Kantian antinomies, thence a failure of standard material/spiritual distinctions. It remains true, however, that the buddhist paths are pointing to something that can penetrate the veil of the material/spiritual directly, almost like the larger cosmological case. The direct penetration out of standard reality is instantly accessible as an act of thought: the physics and the equations of physics are in two distinct realms from the word go, so there is no mystery whatever, at least in the gist, to the distinction of the real and its limits.
In any case, skeptical critics of ‘religion’ need to consider the real issue of something like buddhism: it is more than ‘waking up’. The stage of enlightenment is a complex transformation of the life stream of the seeker as he passes from the round of rebirths altogether, and this larger dimension to the question is being eliminated altogether from the proposed adaptation to science. It is a strategy that smacks of social ideology at its worst: define the liberation of the socially controlled individual out of discussion by restating the core issues as the lesser standard of ‘waking up’. It is a form of imprisonment via semantics.
In any case the issues, as Schopenhauer noted so clearly, are reflected in the resemblance of Kantian and Upanishadic categories. This concordance should have forewarned proponents of scientism that the psychology of enlightenment was reborn at the height of the enlightenment, but none of its philosophers understood what they had done.

Recent stories on Harris’ book:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-jones/time-to-wake-up-spiritual_b_5753248.html: Time to Wake Up! Spirituality Versus Religion: A Dead End


Chopra’s discussion suffers from the misplaced referent of Vedism: we have long suggested here that the original tradition of Indian spirituality got repackaged, misleadingly, as an outgrowth of the Vedic tradition. That is misleading, and if we examine the Buddhist tradition coming later, there is no such association.
In any case Chopra makes the useful point that the atman/brahman legacy which predates the buddhist focus on ‘no self’ is the original foundation for a psychology of enlightenment.

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