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.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-jones/time-to-wake-up-spiritual_b_5753248.html: Time to Wake Up! Spirituality Versus Religion: A Dead End
Thursday, September 18, 2014
From Frontlines of Climate Change, an Urgent Challenge to World Leaders
Marshall Islands president’s video address shames world’s polluters in advance of UN Climate Summit
I have been critical of Sam Harris on many points, including his new book, Waking Up. But I got the kindle version of his book and looked though it this morning. This book was not what I expected, and I will have to revise my views of Harris on many points. He is, to my surprise, very much a new ager among new agers, a fact that has so far been unclear, to say the least.
To see my point, and why I was discussing a Sam Harris who is not the man I thought read my short take below from several years ago on Hitchens’ very confused take on the new age movement and ‘enlightenment’. Based on what Hitchens said you would have to conclude the new atheists were a bunch of scientism morons who cannot grasp the first fact of buddhism and declare enlightenment a superstition. That kind of thinking justly discredited the movement, or so we thought.
Harris, to the contrary is more of a new ager than I am (I never had the money to visit India or the guru circuit) and has done all the conventional guru hops that are typical of the new age jetset. To my astonishment I read he has been to the ashram of Poonja the strangely ambiguous guru in the Maharsi sphere who is the ‘instant enlightenment’ source of many ‘credentialed’ ‘not even quite disciples’ who emerged as fully enlightened, or so it seemed. I have to hand it to Harris to have slipped the noose of a fake ‘enlightenment’ medal. What Poonja was doing is not clear. But at this point, it is clear Harris is coming from a very different direction from that of his fellow atheists.
I can justly castigate the new atheists for the views of someone like Hitchens, but here Harris is in the ‘your guess is as good as mine’ realm of trying to decipher gurus, buddhism, consciousness, meditation and its techniques. Etc… I can’t but achieve par here and have to withdraw some of my sarcastic dismissal, which is really about Hitchens.
AT the same time, I would try to restate my earlier criticisms, because Harris is attempting an overly reductionist stance on the issues of spirituality and science. Let me hasten to add that it was always thus: Indian spirituality has always had skeptics, atheists, and materialists, and beside these the proponents of materialist Samkhya, that ‘materialistic’ take on spiritual ‘materialism’.
We confront issues that produce the classic stalemates, the issue of consciousness especially, and the attempt to resolve its relationship to neuroscience.
The distinction of spirituality and the supernatural is actually a variant of that Samkhya view, and the idea is that ‘spirituality’ can be something inside nature, what else could it be? The classic confusion has been to make all spirituality an aspect of the ‘supernatural’. That said, we can’t easily be dogmatic on any of these questions because we simply don’t have the knowledge to resolve them.
That said, I think Harris is too constricted on the issues: we can speak of naturalistic spirituality, but we can’t so easily negate the question of ‘soul’. It just doesn’t amount to conviction to reject all states beyond the body, and the simple equation of mind with physical parameters. It ought to work that way, and maybe future science will finish the account, but til then we are cutting too much out of the spiritual chaff: we are left with a new kind of fallacy.
Harris has a lot to say about ‘self’ and the illusion of ‘self’, and here again I am a little bit wary. It is however a compelling buddhist discourse in a new incarnation and I will have to defer from critique to try and rethink the issue myself.
Much of my criticism then was misplaced, but the fact remains that excessive scientism is getting in the way: the question of mindfulness and enlightenment is unsolved in Harris’ account. Not that anyone else can really manage.
I have always been able to skirt this usually fruitless debate because I had the model of J.G.Bennett in the back of my mind: there we have clear distinctions of types of consciousness, their relation to cosmology, and the clear distinction between consciousness and the ‘will’ without which endless confusion arises. These views have their own problems but they point to a problem solved in some future knowledge.
Since Harris’ book could be defended on the grounds of trying to rewrite buddhism for materialist fanatics I can muster at best a wave of the hand, in a confident realization the new age trojan horse has entered the new atheist stronghold.
I am left with a grumbling ‘why didn’t you say so in first place?’, etc….
How Hitchens shot a hole in the ‘new atheism’
October 7th, 2012 • No Comments
I think the new atheism died at birth the moment that Christopher Hitchens, describing himself as drunk/hung over in Poona, India, outside the Rajneesh ashram, declared ‘enlightenment’ a superstition. Tens of millions of de facto atheists, among them virtually all buddhists, and ten other categories of philosophic belief comprising immense numbers of intelligent secularists, were suddenly on the outside of the gestating cult of the new atheism, thus automatically before forming any real opinion, just by definition. Anyone who wishes to challenge enlightenment might find grounds for doing so, but that is an edgy proposition. To do so drunk outside the Rajneesh ashsram in the period in question, when an active case of an ‘enlightened’ man was present, trying patiently and at great length in hundreds of books and speeches to clarify the obscurities here, simply made Hitchens and the new atheists look ridiculous. Over and out. Period.
by VIJAY PRASHAD
Ever since the Indian Left faced a historical drubbing at the polling booths earlier this year, commentators have made their mark with obituaries or suggestions for improvement. The former are largely off base, given that the Left – with several million members in its parties – will not dissolve into the cracks of Indian capitalism as long as the contradictions remains. The latter are welcome, and some have provided useful direction for a movement that needs intellectual comradeship and critique. Most recently, the historian and novelist Mukul Kesavan provided one such essay (“Left Behind: Where Are the Comrades When One Needs Them?” The Telegraph, September 8). Kesavan’s main target is India’s largest Left party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI-M. The others, including the Maoists, remain outside his purview.
Like Mukul Kesavan, when I think of the CPI-M, I think directly of the aftermath of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi. I remember that while others went into partisan bickering or cowered in fear, the CPI-M cadre helped set up the rehabilitation camps and worked to salve a great hurt that overtook the entire landscape of the nation’s capital. That Kesavan starts his largely clichéd assault on the Communists from Delhi is important to me. It means that he, as I, recognizes that the CPI-M is not solely to be found in West Bengal. It was in West Bengal, a state with a population of near one hundred million, that the Left Front (with the CPI-M as its main party) had been in power for thirty-four years. The Left Front won seven consecutive state assembly elections, from 1977 to 2011. The defeat in 2011 did not come as a shock, as I will suggest below, but it was certainly a landmark. That defeat has meant that most commentary on the Indian Left begins and ends in West Bengal. Kesavan’s opening in Delhi is refreshing break, but he cannot contain himself. He is sucked into West Bengal once he begins his actual discussion of Indian Communism. This is a pity.
For the past ten years, I have been around India, from Tamil Nadu to Haryana, studying the work of Communists. I found that it was the CPI-M and All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) that raised national attention to the khap panchayats (socially suffocating local “courts”), at great risk to their cadre. AIDWA members oscillate between fighting to reveal a particular atrocity and taking to the streets against a state administration that tolerates medieval forms of justice (for more on this I recommend Elisabeth Armstrong’s Gender & Globalisation, Tulika, 2013). I found that it was the CPI-M and its Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front that joined with Dalit (untouchable) organizations to fight against the spate of anti-dalit atrocities since the 1990s. Ending the two-cup system and breaking the “untouchability walls” have been as important to the Communist struggle as that of increasing daily wages. In Andhra Pradesh, I found that the CPI-M cadre have walked thousands of kilometers in their relentless padyatras (long marches) to defend the livelihood of the people, and to fight for an alternative to private sector control of the energy industry. These communists remind me of those who helped set up the rehabilitation camps in 1984. That spirit is alive and well.
If this spirit is alive and well in other parts of the country, why has it been seen to diminish in West Bengal – the main target of Kesavan’s essay? After thirty-four years, the Left Front was voted out of office. It is remarkable that any one formation trayvonscould have been re-elected for such a long period. The pressures of incumbency are not easy to dismiss. From conversations with members of the Left Front at different levels I learned that after three decades it takes a great deal of time to pivot into oppositional politics. I also learned how they understand their defeat – more complex than Kesavan allows. Kesavan remains at the level of the leadership, making snide remarks about their caste background. The Left has to certainly do a much better job of diversifying its leadership in terms of caste and gender. But this is not the proximate reason for the defeat in West Bengal. Other reasons bear consideration:
(1) The very rural achievement of the Left Front – radical land reforms – produced new rural propertied classes whose own instincts have over time moved away from the Left. In 1995, I interviewed CPI-M leader Anil Biswas, who told me that the Left had to be cautious about the emergence of these new class realities in the countryside. It was hoped that the panchayat (local self-government) devolution would help maintain the politics of the rural areas, but the result here have been mixed.
(2) Kesavan says that the “temptation to say ‘Nandigram’ or ‘Singur’ is understandable, but it ought to be resisted.” Singur is the name of the town where the Left Front government tried to set up an automobile factory, but faced protest against land acquisition. Much the same in Nandigram, where there was a dispute once more on land. But then Kesavan cannot contain himself. These issues have to be raised, as they must be raised. Few in the Communist Left have failed to recognize the perils of the industrialization policy – some will argue that the policy itself is bad, since it charts a path toward inequality, while others will argue that the implementation of the policy was undemocratic. Either way, the implications of Nandigram have been digested. It is a penalty that the Left shall have to pay for some time to come yet.
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NK, for five years I have tolerated this stealth input/propaganda from ‘accesstoinsight’. You are the third such commenter here. The second had to be banned for being overtly racist, incromprehensible in a buddhist.
Never once have these people identified themselves, made a formal gesture of personal communication, nor any explanation of their activities. So, please explain something about this group of buddhists, and why I should trust them where I can no longer trust Tibetan buddhists?
We have had a lot of discussion of the Sam Harris confusions at darwiniana.com.
For the first time this blog surpassed Darwiniana
with 10961 pageviews and 3566 visitors for Tuesday….