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Mindfulness: from samkhya to buddhism to Schopenhauer

December 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

The debate over science and mindfulness is evocative of what must have been similar debates in antiquity, generating an attempted science in the canon of Samkhya, whose core statements and history are a bit murky. But the point was to try and create a systematic account that could include the states and mental conditions that seemed to move beyond the material into the spiritual. One and the same, or analogous, debate must have confounded both points of view, despite the lack of a modern science. The attempt to create science revolved around a ‘science’ of gunas, and beyond that an attempt to do precisely what critics of mindfulness hype seem to wish to also do: find a place for the issues of consciousness in a framework that is natural, without a dualism of matter and spirit.
The result has never had a stable form and we suspect the original versions to have been lost, and the result in any case is a far cry from the rigor of modern science. But the sufi J. G. Bennett took up the issue (via the notes of Ouspensky via Indic sources via sufis via Gurdjieff?) in a bold attempt to put something on paper in roughly systematic, if not quite scientific form. The result is hard to assess but we can see how the issue of mindfulness is directly related to the key concern of Samkhya, the place of ‘spiritual’ energies in the context of a ‘higher nature’, i.e. the spiritual rendered as material. Samkhya was always ‘material’ in its emphasis, and the object of much debate in a distant cousin of ‘left/right’ debates: that ‘scandalous Samkhya’ as an impious materialism.
But the point was well taken: debating over materialism is pointless, declare everything material in a scheme of triads (which weren’t quite material).
Bennett in an echo of Schopenhauer solved this riddle by seeing that the triads in question were forms of the ‘will’, while the energies/materials of consciousness were in a related mode. Etc…

Bennett produced, or reproduced one version of the long lost full chart of Samkhya based on an idea of seven-fold sequences. The original here somehow foundered in the derivative and incoherent lore of the enneagram, which was unknown to the original. But the point is that a scheme of seven levels and the consciousness of man poised at a very low level in a scheme of energies/gunas/triads (the mindfulness debate being about trying to move up one level), pointed to the ‘science’ (which modern science could not accept as yet) that could reconcile the material and the spiritual. I think Schopenhauer understood the point even better than Bennett and saw the riddle of material/spiritual in a different way of slicing the pie: the causal/phenomenal and the domain of the Will in nature (not quite the same as the ‘will’ in man or hominid). The Will in nature turned out to be precisely the scheme of gunas, but without the confused sophistry that no longer made sense of a subject in decay). Bennett tried to construct the full scheme and the result is brilliant indeed, but that result is a door stopper tome that noone can really read or understand. But if one can ‘sort of’ attempt the trial run of the project the confusion of the mindfulness/science debate stands out as an instant replay in slightly different form of the debates that must have surrounded the era of Jain/Buddhist meditation movements.
It remains to be seen how science will graduate from neuroscience to a new neuroscience with a perspective that can deal with the higher aspect of consciousness (and the will). Schopenhauer had no sense of the mindfulness question, but produced a sort of cameo buddhism with a theme of ‘overcoming the will’ as a path to liberation. He had a remarkable sense of buddhism and/or the upanishadic vision and a complete sense of the first noble truth in his insistence that freedom from the will was the main meditation. His view is perhaps too austere to start, and has no sense of meditation as a praxis, but his insight into what is probably the original key to the lost Samkhya is remarkable. We should see from this why the debate with science is so intractable: science deals with the phenomenal/causal and cannot accept any other domain. But the key lies, it seems, in a larger perspective, one as garbled by religionists of the ‘spiritual’ as by scientists with the material.

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