Saturday, September 08, 2007

A different characteristic of “thought” as an ascending occult mentality

Understanding Thoughts of Sri Aurobindo by Debashish on Fri 07 Sep 2007 12:48 AM PDT Permanent Link
Debashish Banerji Science, Culture and Integral Yoga
It is not often that a collection of advanced and original writings of such consistent quality on various aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s teachings enters the mainstream of published texts and it is thus even more of a pity that the book should bear such a clumsy title as “Understanding Thoughts of Sri Aurobindo” or wear a jacket of such mediocre design merit. The term “thoughts” with respect to Sri Aurobindo’s oeuvre is obviously a problematic one, given his explicit repeated statements regarding the cessation of “thinking” in him, while at the same time affirming an impersonal “thought” function to a higher mental and even supramental consciousness.
Moreover, a different characteristic of “thought” as an ascending occult mentality in the liberated human nature is also affirmed by him as in his poem “Thought the Paraclete.” So, conceivably, the ideas, whether belonging to the human intellect or not, present in Sri Aurobindo’s writings, could be called “thoughts” – “Those thoughts that wander through eternity” to draw on one of his own favored lines from Milton. There is also what could be called the discursive “author-function” that the postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault envisions as the legitimate impersonal designation of the author, a convenient spatial and historical marker in the ceaseless and unending flow of thought-text that maps out idea-space in human becoming.
Here, the “thoughts of Sri Aurobindo” would not be considered entities originated and thus possessed as personal property by the author Sri Aurobindo, but rather a special configuration or constellation of ideas released into the dynamic flow of jostling mental-vital forces materially distributed as text, constantly reconfigured by time and influencing or shaping human reality. From all these special and rather esoteric considerations, one may try to justify the title, but even at best it remains ungracious in its impression. Even “Understanding the Thought of Sri Aurobindo” may have been better in spite of the problematic nature of the term “thought” - more in keeping with the miraculous global unity and integrality of the ideas expressed in his writings.
But for those who may chance to get past these surface infelicities, there is much of value and originality inside and the serious reader interested in approaching the world-wide teaching of Sri Aurobindo will find much new ground laying out the limbs and proportions of his teachings and relating his ideas to various contemporary thought-currents...But aside from these taxonomic concerns, the selections themselves, as mentioned before, are of a scarcely rivaled excellence in terms of their hermeneutic insight and their contemporary reach.
Of the Philosophical essays, Kireet Joshi’s comparative review of the theories of evolution stands out by its comprehensiveness and clarity. The idea of evolution has been introduced into the modern mainstream by Charles Darwin and Kireet Joshi makes this the starting point of his consideration. He points to the two main characteristics of Darwinian evolutionary biology as: (1) gradualism; and (2) natural instead of supernatural selection – that is, mutations are statistically random and express equal probability but the survival of consciousness in living things selects for the persistence of certain mutations as the building blocks of more complex and better adapted living organisms.
To Joshi’s characteristics, one may add that Darwinism reduces evolution to a scale of physical forms and has no place in its logic for any change of consciousness. Joshi goes on to point to a number of problems with Darwinian evolutionism, some of which have been acknowledged by and responded to by biologists and some of which surpass the scope of biology as a physical science and can only be addressed by philosophers or experimental psychologists/yogis. He points, for example, to the lack of evidence for gradualism and the solutions offered by modern “saltationists,” such as that of the punctuated equilibrium of Stephen Jay Gould. He also points to the problems of explaining complex mutations as against accidents and variations in the emergence of significant functional properties and their similarities and repetitions across different genealogies. He then goes on to consider philosophical solutions to the question of evolution, which mostly add a teleological element to the reductive assumptions of chance held by biology as also a consideration of an evolution of consciousness.
The philosophers he take sup in turn include Henri Bergson, Herbert Spencer, Samuel Alexander, Lloyd Morgan, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Whitehead, before arriving at Sri Aurobindo and explicating his evolutionary philosophy based on a prior involution of consciousness. An essay of this kind of incisive comprehensiveness leaves one with a sense of the total field of evolution and how completely Sri Aurobindo answers all its issues and problems. Comparative perspectives like this are sorely needed today in Sri Aurobindo studies. Arabinda Basu’s succinct and concentrated essay on Sri Aurobindo’s Doctrine of Evolution and Dilip Kumar Roy’s elaboration of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Approach to the Concept of Evolution are both fit companions to Kireet Joshi’s essay in this philosophic vein.

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