Friday, December 23, 2005

Rid yourself of the myths and ideologies

HAPPINESS, PLEASURE AND KNOWLEDGE: It’s possible to make numerous distinctions with regard to pleasure, but the main seem to me to be
  • a) the pleasures of the senses vs. the pleasures of the mind
  • b) the different kinds of happiness.

It may also be possible to relate the different kinds of pleasures, and observe that an excess in one kind of pleasure often results in the diminution of another kind, perhaps even pain of some kinds. I think the first thing to observe about pleasures is their variety. Apart from the two identified above, there is also a third kind which some regard as a life goal or wish: the pleasure that is brought about by the exercise of power or influence. I would extend that to include the pleasure associated with helping others, or exercising compassion or kindness towards others. This third kind I will (for the purpose of this discussion) call psychic pleasure. Not all psychic pleasures are benign, such as the pleasures of sadism or domination or “schadenfreude”.

The first point that I would like to make about the three kinds of pleasures is that they are so different that they cannot be measured by a common measure or metric. Bentham tried to do this with his concept of a util, but it’s an absurdity that lives on in shadowy form in economics. The second point is that they are sufficiently different that it is often difficult to see what is common to them. Try and compare the pleasure of sitting and trying to catch fish on a sunny day on the Bosphorus, and the pleasure of listening to say, Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello sonata. The only way of “comparing” them is to ask which of the two one would rather do if one is given a choice, or what sacrifice one is prepared to make in terms of a common numeraire or measure of value (such as money). Either way, one is expressing a subjective preference between two pleasures, but this outwardly shown preference is a substitute for choosing between the two literally incomparable kinds of subjective internal experience one undergoes with each action or source of pleasure.

If one examines this subjective internal experience (called qualia in the philosophical jargon) associated with various kinds of pleasure, one discovers that there is indeed something common to them all, and that is the fact that bodily sensations accompany them. (Of course the sensations themselves may differ from case to case.) This is clear in the case of sensual pleasures (eating, sex, music, etc.) but I suspect (and scientists claim that there is evidence to show that) there is also a certain set of physical bodily reactions or phenomena associated with the qualia of mental and psychic pleasures, of which we are only dimly aware, such as slightly raised heartbeats, the release of certain hormones or neurochemicals, or certain sorts of muscular reactions such as hair standing up. In other words, the act of feeling pleasure is accompanied by emotion and a physiological response from our bodies. Anyone who has developed a neat and “elegant” solution to a difficult mathematical problem, or written a really good poem or essay, or watched a deeply satisfying film, is likely to have become acquainted with such mental and bodily processes.

Possibly because of these physiological reactions, we tend to become attached to pleasures, and to seek their sources, but also to avoid pain. (The absence of pleasure need not be pain, nor the absence of pain, pleasure.) This tendency to develop attachments or addictions to pleasures is the source of desire, which in turn is the source of pain and suffering. Note that although the absence of pleasure need not be pain, the dependence and attachment caused by repeated experiences of pleasure cause desire. And because the sources of pleasures in the world that we experience are ephemeral and finite, they are ultimately causes of suffering. Yet it is impossible to avoid them altogether, for that would mean that one has to cease to live.

The central teachings of more than one major Indian philosophical tradition (but not all!) try to address this problem. Essentially, what these philosophies say (and I am simplifying horribly here) is that our highest goal is to liberate ourselves from those attachments I spoke about, and to treat both pleasure and pain the same. This consists in trying to “see through” the illusory nature of the phenomenal and sensual world known as samsara, and therefore attain the realization that our pleasures and pains, our love and anger and desire, are all subjectively real but objectively not so. We feel pleasure and pain, but we must try and stop mentally and psychically running after pleasure and from pain. Important parts of Indian philosophy, even when they are quite secular, are devoted to an examination of how the illusory nature of the phenomenal world is preserved by our psychological processes. This creates a trap into which all of us fall, but few of us learn to escape from them by “seeing through” the trap. We think the self is real, but in the noumenal world there is no self, only the world. In fact, the self and the world are objectively one, but subjectively separate, according to these schools. The Sanskrit word for the philosophy of knowledge is “darşana” which literally means “seeing” or vision - seeing through the traps of concepts and language and the Kantian categories.

So what about happiness? Happiness lies in the cultivation of the senses and the emotions and the psyche, at the right stage of one’s life, and in the right ways; but ultimately one needs to realize (and not just intellectually) as one gets older that the attachment to the senses and emotions and psyche is a trap through which one needs to liberate oneself. Indian philosophical literature is apparently full of analogical references to this entrapment (such as the caged bird), and the contrast between the real and the illusory, (such as the diamond hiding in the ashes, the rope being mistaken for a snake, the man looking desperately for a necklace he thinks he has lost, all the while wearing it around his neck).

The critical thrust in much of western philosophy has a similar message, but a different motivation: the search for truth. The true world is hidden from us through myths, ideology, and other sources of bias and deception that act like dirt on our cognitive and intellectual spectacles. If you want to encounter the real world, learn to “see” the world clearly: rid yourself of the myths and ideologies through rigorous examination of the concepts and categories and language and discourse which are part of the spectacles which we all must wear. GYANOPROBHA November 26, 2005 in Philosophical Musings


One tension that your post highlights between the science-centric (excuse my clumsy phrasing) and the Indian philosophical tradition is this:
Suppose that I were to attain the Indian enlightenment of the sort you are talking about. Suppose I were to "see through" and "attain the realization that our pleasures and pains, our love and anger and desire, are all subjectively real but objectively not so."
It is natural to assume that this would be an achievement for me. My nature dictates that I have some desires for things like food, companionship of others, warmth, sex and etc. If I am to "see through", I'd have to overcome or defeat these desires. In that sense, "seeing through" would be a mental achievement. However, previously you had argued that mental achievements are not purely mental but also have physical indicators:

"...there is also a certain set of physical bodily reactions or phenomena associated with the qualia of mental and psychic pleasures, of which we are only dimly aware, such as slightly raised heartbeats, the release of certain hormones or neurochemicals..."
So I am going to assume that if I manage to see through, since this is an achievement, this will effect pleasure on me, which in turn will have physical epiphenomena associated with it.
This indicates that although I try to overcome the physical world and "see through", I still am redirected to the physical world due to my own physical nature and limitations (i.e. via my own physical reactions at my achievement). Of course, the Indian tradition would just deny that psychic peace would have physical consequences. Posted by: Cihan Baran November 26, 2005 at 12:04 PM

The disciplines and practices that are aimed at the kind of emancipation that I have referred to do indeed seem to have physical epiphenomena accompanying them. There is at least one group of scientists who are investigating these epiphenomena in collaboration with practitioners of Buddhist meditation. See But I don't know whether this indicates that the physiological accompaniments to the achievement of liberation are identical to those accompanying the more earthly pleasures that I have referred to.

The basic message of these religious traditions seems to be well attested in life experience - do not become dependent on the pleasures of the senses, because this dependence is the cause of suffering. But even to take this message seriously, it would seem that one would need to be aware of the pleasurable sensations accompanying them, and say to oneself: "There lies a trap!" and stay away from overindulging them. Both the scientific findings and the acknowledgement of the suffering caused by in the trap of desire seem to affirm the physical reality of the trap itself. When one "sees through" a trap or an illusion, one is not denying it, but realizing that what looks like X (pleasure or happiness) can in fact turn out to be Y (suffering) if one becomes attached to it.

For me people fall into three categories (not necessarily mutually exclusive, because one can jump from on to another and back again): people who are trapped and don't know it, people who are trapped and know it, and people who see the trap for what it is and escape from it (but they have to fall into it first!). All those aspects of our psychology which we associate with our sense of who we are (especially our cultural/ideological filter) keep changing. Hence what we call the self is in fact a very elusive, changeable thing, difficult to define, although we all have a sense of self. According to some philosophies, the self is a constructed illusion, part of the "web of illusion" without which we can't live in this world, but which is the cause of much suffering and unhappiness. Spiritual enlightenment then lies in seeing "through" this illusion, allowing one to become "detached" from the world even while living fully in it. In fact, this detachment is a condition for engaging joyfully and compassionately with the world without allowing oneself to become swept up by its suffering.

Intellectual enlightenment too is a similar process of "seeing through" ideas, recognizing their weaknesses and strengths, moving towards objectivity through realizing the value of other perspectives. One can see connections between different kinds of knowledge and belief and world-views more clearly, and develop them further, if one frees oneself from "attachment" to any of them (i.e., stop clinging to them). To be able to perceive things in a new way, one has to overcome the perceptions to which one clung earlier.To retain an open mind (both intellectually and spiritually), and still be committed to some things without turning into a jellyfish - this kind of engaged detachment is difficult, as I am finding out all the time. (So is this talk of "treating both pleasure and pain the same", or denying the objective reality of our qualia part of the entrapment by concepts and language through their careless use?) Posted by: GYANOPROBHA November 27, 2005 at 05:39 AM

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Over-intellectuality of the mind of Europe

Letters on Yoga Volume 1 Section Four REASON, SCIENCE AND YOGA I - Reason and Yoga
EUROPEAN metaphysical thought — even in those thinkers who try to prove or explain the existence and nature of God or of the Absolute — does not in its method and result go beyond the intellect. But the intellect is incapable of knowing the supreme Truth; it can only range about seeking for Truth, and catching fragmentary representations of it, not the thing itself, and trying to piece them together.
Mind cannot arrive at Truth; it can only make some constructed figure that tries to represent it or a combination of figures. At the end of European thought, therefore, there must always be Agnosticism, declared or implicit. Intellect, if it goes sincerely to its own end, has to return and give this report: "I cannot know; there is, or at least it seems to me that there may be or even must be Something beyond, some ultimate Reality, but about its truth I can only speculate; it is either unknowable or cannot be known by me." Or, if it has received some light on the way from what is beyond it, it can say too: "There is perhaps a consciousness beyond Mind, for I seem to catch glimpses of it and even to get intimations from it. If that is in touch with the Beyond or if it is itself the consciousness of the Beyond and you can find some way to reach it, then this Something can be known but not otherwise."
Any seeking of the supreme Truth through intellect alone must end either in Agnosticism of this kind or else in some intellectual system or mind-constructed formula. There have been hundreds of these systems and formulas and there can be hundreds more, but none can be definitive. Each may have its value for the mind, and different systems with their contrary conclusions can have an equal appeal to intelligences of equal power and competence. All this labour of speculation has its utility in training the human mind and helping to keep before it the idea of Something beyond and Ultimate towards which it must turn. But the intellectual Reason can only point vaguely or feel gropingly towards it or try to indicate partial and even conflicting aspects of its manifestation here; it cannot enter into and know it.
As long as we remain in the domain of the intellect only, an impartial pondering over all that has been thought and sought after, a constant throwing up of ideas, of all the possible ideas, and the formation of this or that philosophical belief, opinion or conclusion is all that can be done. This kind of disinterested search after Truth would be the only possible attitude for any wide and plastic intelligence. But any conclusion so arrived at would be only speculative; it could have no spiritual value; it would not give the decisive experience or the spiritual certitude for which the soul is seeking. If the intellect is our highest possible instrument and there is no other means of arriving at supraphysical Truth, then a wise and large Agnosticism must be our ultimate attitude. Things in the manifestation may be known to some degree, but the Supreme and all that is beyond the Mind must remain forever unknowable.
It is only if there is a greater consciousness beyond Mind and that consciousness is accessible to us that we can know and enter into the ultimate Reality. Intellectual speculation, logical reasoning as to whether there is or is not such a greater consciousness cannot carry us very far. What we need is a way to get the experience of it, to reach it, enter into it, live in it. If we can get that, intellectual speculation and reasoning must fall necessarily into a very secondary place and even lose their reason for existence. Philosophy, intellectual expression of the Truth may remain, but mainly as a means of expressing this greater discovery and as much of its contents as can at all be expressed in mental terms to those who still live in the mental intelligence.
This, you will see, answers your point about the Western thinkers, Bradley and others, who have arrived through intellectual thinking at the idea of an "Other beyond Thought" or have even, like Bradley, tried to express their conclusions about it in terms that recall some of the expressions in the Arya. The idea in itself is not new; it is as old as the Vedas. It was repeated in other forms in Buddhism, Christian Gnosticism, Sufism. Originally, it was not discovered by intellectual speculation, but by the mystics following an inner spiritual discipline. When, somewhere between the seventh and fifth centuries B.C., men began both in the East and West to intellectualise knowledge, this Truth survived in the East; in the West where the intellect began to be accepted as the sole or highest instrument for the discovery of Truth, it began to fade. But still it has there too tried constantly to return; the Neo-Platonists brought it back, and now, it appears, the Neo-Hegelians and others (e.g., the Russian Ouspensky and one or two German thinkers, I believe) seem to be reaching after it. But still there is a difference.
In the East, especially in India, the metaphysical thinkers have tried, as in the West, to determine the nature of the highest Truth by the intellect. But, in the first place, they have not given mental thinking the supreme rank as an instrument in the discovery of Truth, but only a secondary status. The first rank has always been given to spiritual intuition and illumination and spiritual experience; an intellectual conclusion that contradicts this supreme authority is held invalid. Secondly, each philosophy has armed itself with a practical way of reaching to the supreme state of consciousness, so that even when one begins with Thought, the aim is to arrive at a consciousness beyond mental thinking. Each philosophical founder (as also those who continued his work or school) has been a metaphysical thinker doubled with a yogi. Those who were only philosophic intellectuals were respected for their learning but never took rank as truth-discoverers. And the philosophies that lacked a sufficiently powerful means of spiritual experience died out and became things of the past because they were not dynamic for spiritual discovery and realisation.
In the West it was just the opposite that came to pass. Thought, intellect, the logical reason came to be regarded more and more as the highest means and even the highest end; in philosophy, Thought is the be-all and the end-all. It is by intellectual thinking and speculation that the truth is to be discovered; even spiritual experience has been summoned to pass the tests of the intellect, if it is to be held valid — just the reverse of the Indian position. Even those who see that the mental Thought must be overpassed and admit a supramental "Other", do not seem to escape from the feeling that it must be through mental Thought, sublimating and transmuting itself, that this other Truth must be reached and made to take the place of the mental limitation and ignorance. And again Western thought has ceased to be dynamic; it has sought after a theory of things, not after realisation. It was still dynamic amongst the ancient Greeks, but for moral and aesthetic rather than spiritual ends.
Later on, it became yet more purely intellectual and academic; it became intellectual speculation only without any practical ways and means for the attainment of the Truth by spiritual experiment, spiritual discovery, a spiritual transformation. If there were not this difference, there would be no reason for seekers like yourself to turn to the East for guidance; for in the purely intellectual field, the Western thinkers are as competent as any Eastern sage. It is the spiritual way, the road that leads beyond the intellectual levels, the passage from the outer being to the inmost Self, which has been lost by the over-intellectuality of the mind of Europe.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A philosopher’s journey

Dipankar Sinha The Statesman Mar 25, 2003
From a secure life in the sleepy village Nilakantapur and in Cuttack to hectic professional life in Kolkata, Bardhaman, Göttingen, Oklahoma, New York and Philadelphia. This is how JN Mohanty, a leading scholar of philosophy, found his physical trajectory and more important, intellectual mobility in life. This autobiography, which took 15 years to complete, bears testimony to this remarkable journey. The volume for obvious reasons is not about his philosophical investigations and discourses. It does not throw new light on Husserl or phenomenology or modalities of the self, all of which happen to be favourite themes in Mohanty’s intellectual quest. The volume is based on reminiscences of an extremely talented and hardworking individual — a “West-trained analytic thinker” conscious of his Oriya Indian upbringing and identity.
The very first impression that one gets about the author is that of his quiet scholarship. He is not a cult figure, nor someone who invites intense public attention and media hype associated with quite a few scholars (including Indian academics) nowadays. While his discipline, philosophy, might have something to do with such quiet intellectual pursuit, it might also be attributed to the fact that his academic height and career, so to say, were built up slowly but steadily — block by block. True, it gave rise to a wonderful combination of diversity of interests and intense rigour to his scholarship, but it was not exactly a smooth journey. East and West, which occupy the centrestage of his autobiography, enter Mohanty’s life not only materially but also metaphorically, to lead to a creative tension. In the beginning it was of course ‘the East’ that prevailed. It came in the form of the instruction of the Sanskrit pundit in school, who had initiated him to Tarkasamgraha and Raghuvamsham, to walk barefoot and make contact with the earth to energize the brain. It was also in the form of Pundit Yogendranatha Tarka Vedantatirtha, with whom Mohanty studied Samkara’s Bhasya on Brahmasutra, who in order to “discharge obligations to his students” would dictate from his death-bed Vidya Vamsa, the Pundit’s memory-based narrative of his students.
It was also evident in an insatiable urge to understand the philosophical underpinnings of Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo. In institutional terms, Mohanty’s academic encounter with the East would be within the walls of Presidency College and Calcutta University, the institutions that form a substantial part of his recollections. When it comes to encountering the West Mohanty as a doctoral student would meet and closely observe some of the best known names in German philosophy and pure mathematics. It seems that Mohanty’s intellectual interactions with his research supervisor, Hermann Wein, whom he at best describes as a “highly intelligent man,” would be limited, and he would be influenced more by other professors like Joseph Konig and Helmut Plessner. He also admits being overwhelmed by the majestic elegance of formal mathematical structures, which might have helped him immensely in later years. Mohanty also sensitively recounts the darker side of some of the finest German intellectuals of the fifties, a number of whom collaborated with the Nazis more out of craving for material benefits than ideological affinity. Then again, East and West would ‘meet’ in unforeseen and somewhat unthinkable ways.
Thus the logician Pandit Ananta Kumar Tarkatirtha, to whom Mohanty expresses his greatest intellectual debt, would ask his ‘Göttingen-educated’ student to introduce him to Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Kant’s first Critique. What’s more, the Pundit would raise “new questions” about them. The East-West interaction would be personified in “mahaguru” Ernst Waldschmidt who by his phenomenal scholarship of Vedic Sanskrit would demolish Mohanty’s stereotypical image of a pundit. Mohanty writes: “He would give me a final test in the traditional manner of Salakanyaya. He would put a needle through a palm-leaf manuscript, open the manuscript where the needle stopped, and ask me to explain just that page – first translate it, then point out grammatical problems, and then raise questions…”. What could be a better symbolic confluence of the intellectual East and its Western counterpart? When the East and the West engrave themselves in the cognitive map of such a thinker the manifestations at times become apparently paradoxical. Thus a self-proclaimed atheist like Mohanty would repeatedly repose faith in Hindu tradition and rituals.
The author who treats life as an “aesthetic project” has a philosophical explanation to offer. To him, performing rituals is “obligatory” because participation in common social practices facilitate the bond among the members of community. Thus, he seems to have a ‘secular’ logic to his enthusiastic participation in pujas. Mohanty’s elegant style and absorbing writing steer clear of unpleasant encounters, frictions and regrets which one finds in the autobiography of Western scholars, including philosophers. Thus it is not an autobiography which uncovers a life in full. However, this is not to be taken as a criticism. Because an individual has the ultimate prerogative in deciding the content an autobiography is meant to be read, not necessarily to be critiqued. Reading such a book is always a great experience not only because it depicts an important segment of life of an eminent scholar but also because it captures so well the past and present ambience in the East and in the West, in which scholars of such proportions are made.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The triumph of anarchism

The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Dec 11, 2005
One of the repercussions of Chomsky's lifelong work is that human language and most behaviour are dependent on a huge, impulsive capacity for creativity, an "instinct for freedom" to use a term by Bakunin. This concept places Chomsky at the "frontier of psychology, philosophy and linguistics and square in the 18th-Century tradition of the Enlightenment — Rousseau, the Cartesians and other ferocious libertarians." Believing that the best way to maximise our genetically endowed freedom is through anarchism, Chomsky defines his worldview as "libertarian socialism." Such a brand of anarchism has both a historical force and stands for a deeply positive ideology that aims towards the absolute welfare of the public, though in the hands of the media and its controllers, this school of thought takes a rather destructive and a negative complexion.
As an activist with an anti-fascist ideology, Chomsky has always been sceptical of the patriotic fervour behind wars. For this reason he stands against the treatment of the German prisoners of war and is deeply disturbed by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The libertarian anarchist stance combined with a left-wing communism that he adopts under the influence of his linguistics teacher, Zellig S. Harris, lead to his attention to causes of social justice and the perceptible duplicity of the intellectuals. He sees his theory of Universal Grammar as a uniformity of human genetic inheritance, a uniting force that sees more similarities in the human race than conflicts arising out of ethnic affiliations or narrow provincialism. The essence of creativity is innate in all humans, which enables them to think and introspect. Language being inherently a creative entity, its original usage gives one a sense of freedom. Inequality and suffering in the world, therefore, have to be taken into consideration to finally eliminate division. A Marxist standpoint with class as the central tenet thus forms the essence of anarchist theory and practice. Chomsky adds to it the idea of the human linguistic abilities that have the power to resist any social oppression or straitjacketing. External authority cannot control the evolution of moral and intellectually rebellious culture. Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the University of Berlin, and John Dewey, the philosopher, convinced Chomsky that political control is used by the State at the behest of the moneyed class. As argued by Adam Smith, it is all a self-promotion programme premeditated for the sole intention of profit at the cost of apathetic abuse of the masses. Chomsky remains equally impressed by other anarchist thinkers such as Emma Goldman, Pannekoek, Rudolph Rocker and Diego Abad de Santillan.
According to Chomsky, anarchism is a type of "voluntary socialism" and is synonymous with "libertarian socialism." This is not found in capitalist societies where labour is subjected to coercion when it is not allowed to own the means of production or have any effective control over the productive activity. Freedom and creativity are two privileges of human beings so essential to their need; any unjust exercise of power leads to victimisation as well as psychological depression. To fulfill human nature and to see to it that human life thrives, it becomes essential to counter any form of oppression or control. This is the reason that Chomsky supports anarchosyndicalism, which according to Mcgilvray "is defensible as an empirical claim about the nature of a society in which human beings cannot just survive but thrive, by fulfilling their natures."
Chomsky, argues McGilvray, "sees anarchosyndicalism as a modification of the basic Enlightenment conception of the person as a free and responsible agent, a modification required to meet the challenge of private power. Empowering individuals by putting control back into their hands is the best way to meet this challenge and provide a meaningful form of freedom." Chomsky suggests that the anarchist way of putting an end to the imposition of control from the top is one step towards implementing a worker's control over the means of production. Thus anarchosyndicalism used as a critical practice refuses to put all initiatives and solutions in the hands of the technocrats or bureaucrats. Each individual, according to Chomsky, has the responsibility and the creative acumen to take control of his/her society. Therefore, the idea is not to overthrow governments but to take over the corporates so that they begin to work more in favour of the people. Anarchism, in favour of the people, involves the recognition of plurality and diversity, and difference of interests, ideas and opinions. This is the Cartesian underpinning to Chomsky's thought, an impulse towards the non-systematic and highly relative and flexible character of everything in society from organisations to individuals. He takes governance inherently as a communal activity not to be left simply in the hands of the specialists who focus too narrowly on their respective areas of interest, ignoring the larger well being of society. For instance, undesirable jobs like cleaning the sewerage system, or repairing the electrical wires during a snowstorm should necessarily be mechanised, and if there still exist more undesirable jobs, the community should share them. Another solution that Chomsky suggests is that people who do unpleasant jobs should be paid the highest, not the lowest.
The examination of the history of social and political dissent demonstrates that there have been "a number of otherwise loyal, upright, law-abiding citizens who believed that they had been driven by their conscience to break the law over certain specific issues." In fact, we are all dissidents at one time or another. Protest has to be allowed in society, as we live in a world that is constantly changing, and it is by protest that the laws are changed for a better future. As Vaclav Havel writes, "You do not become a `dissident' just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society." Under the overwhelming force of capitalism, bureaucracy and religious difference there are always the smouldering undercurrents of anarchism that, in the words of Rudolf Rocker, underscores "a definite trend in the historic development of mankind, which ... strives for the free, unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life."

Monday, December 05, 2005

The other worlds

Sri Aurobindo passed away 55 years back, on December 5, 1950. He is perceived as a great soul but his writings have yet to earn the reception they deserve. The vast body of his work and the difficult diction he employs, may be the reason to deter the common reader; but even the scholar is not enamoured enough of them. The most plausible factor that seems to be responsible is Sri Aurobindo’s insistence on spirituality while discussing secular themes such as politics, poetry, the arts, or education.

The convenient demarcation between secular and the sacred suits the academic approach. But for Sri Aurobindo this is a faulty notion because the causal aspect is eclipsed. The linkage between the two is less of the manner of an umbilical chord and more in the nature of interpenetrating imbrications. If our sensory and scientific construct of the world fails to accommodate such a picture, it must be understood as a lack.

Astronomy as an ancient passion has helped us to know about the outer universe. Astrology, too, by talking of stars and planets attunes us to their subtle influences. The different abodes of gods as described by various mythologies, also, permit us certain familiarity of the other worlds. But we rarely take their effect on our lives any seriously. And the task of Sri Aurobindo is to hammer the modern mind so as to rid it from secular superstitions.

The inner and the other worlds are a consistent theme in his poem, Savitri. Composed through the years from Quantum mechanics to nuclear holocaust, this modern epic puts a stamp of authority on the unseen fecund worlds and their inhabitants who are inextricably linked to our motions and emotions. To recognize this reality seriously, is what Savitri demands from its readers.

The different parts of our being and consciousness, as delineated by Sri Aurobindo in his Integral Yoga system, are nothing but the other worlds. We can well imagine our plights as puppets when disparate worlds are very much in the play to pull the strings. Somewhat similar to the insight offered by Baudrillard that it is the object which uses and employs us and not the other way round that we ordinarily perceive. But then, how do we benefit by this concept in our practical life?

That there runs a perpetual consonance between the seen and the unseen, might seem, at times, hard to digest, but a poetic impression can be allowed to swim aloft. The process should further deepen in the realm of creative imagination leading to a faint intellectual recognition. Since the notion runs counter to our egoistic autonomy, it is bound to take a long time to percolate down to the distant and defiant impulses. And regular recitation of Savitri helps here; its mantric effect casting its reach down to our body cells.