Theology Reconsidered: An Introduction

What follows is the Introductory chapter from a newly published, two Volume work entitled Theology Reconsidered.  The book can be purchased from Lambert publishing via their website; Volume I here and Volume II here.

 


When looking at the first mythological and philosophical works from antiquity, it is very easy to get lost in the “facts” surrounding these ancient works and lose sight of their true meaning and import to the people and cultures within which these works emerged from and out of.  Much of the modern academic and scholarly literature concerning these ancient “theo-philosophical” works falls into this category.  To a large extent, the purpose of this work is to try and “recover” said meanings of these ancient works as much as possible, and to look at them within a much broader theological, mythological and philosophical narrative that we find throughout Eurasia in the first millennium BCE, the so-called “Axial Age” of modern man.

In order to do this, we take a primarily intellectual journey through the mind of ancient man, as he sees the world and as is reflected in the earliest literary evidence of man, trying to understand these works not only within the broader “Eurasian” context, but also trying to look at them through the eyes of the ancient philosophers, theologians, priests and scholars who wrote these ancient texts, or in many cases were the ones to “compile” or “transcribe” these longstanding theo-philosophical traditions, but also to try and understand them within the theological, intellectual and socio-cultural context within which these works arose.  This broader meaning we call knowledge, which from a modern philosophical perspective is referred to as epistemology.

This knowledge is what Philo Judaeus takes great pain to describe in his exegesis of the Pentateuch, Genesis in particular, what the Neo-Platonists take pains to describe in their literature which arises in defense of their doctrines as Christianity takes root and begins to supplant and snuff out their schools of learning and wisdom, it is what is alluded to in the so-called hidden, or unwritten, teachings of Plato and that which is hidden, kept secret, by the followers of Pythagoras  and also in the Eleusinian mysteries and the alchemical Hermetic doctrines attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, and also what the Upanishads refer to as Brahmavidyā, or knowledge of Brahman, that from deep antiquity is believed to be passed down from teacher to disciple – as Plato refers to in his Seventh Letter as that which is “brought to birth in the Soul, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter nourishes itself.”.[1]

After the author completed his first major work, the Snow Cone Diaries, we considered the writing “experiment” complete, the Work was done.  Following that exercise, and for reasons we cannot completely explain, we found it necessary to flesh out some of the ideas therein, reflecting a continued interest, and ultimately curiosity, concerning the advent, development, and evolution of what we term theo-philosophical developments of mankind which abound in the historical record, following the intellectual journey as it were up until modern times, what we refer to herein as the Information Age, where Information is at our finger tips, where activity is “informed” by its surroundings (Quantum Theory), and yet while we all for the most part (and in particular in Western academia) ignore the wisdom of the ancients.

The Snow Cone Diaries was somewhat manufactured in the sense that it was intentionally modelled after one of the most influential books that the author has read written by a modern self-proclaimed “metaphysician”, or philosophologer (i.e. one who studies philosophy) named Robert Pirsig entitled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, initially published in 1974 but which the author encountered and read during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years in college, years of great tumult and change for most, the author being no exception.

After college, as is documented in Snow Cone Diaries, the author spent several years pursuing a career in professional tennis which in the end amounted to more so than anything else a time period of intense reading and personal analysis and introspection that led the author, in a manner that can perhaps best be described as “chance”, or if you believe in such things, Fate as it were, to Eastern philosophy and mysticism.  The author had been prepared for this adventure somewhat as he had majored in Ancient History as an undergraduate at Brown University and had written his thesis on the “Origins and Influence of Hermetism”.  In a sense then, the author’s initial, and now very persistent and long lasting, foray into Eastern mysticism was a natural extension of the intellectual pursuits of his undergraduate years.

The impetus and source of the author’s interest in Eastern philosophy, Kuṇḍalinī Yoga specifically in fact, stemmed primarily, at least at the beginning, from an interest in the mental and psychological demands of the game of tennis at the professional level, where many matches were determined by an individual’s performance at key points within a given match.  After spending a 6-9 months on the professional tour, mostly travelling in Europe, It became very clear that an individual’s success (which was of course almost entirely measured in Wins and Losses) while depending of course on physical attributes such as power, strength and fitness, at the same time very much depended upon what is referred to in sports as the mental aspect of the game.

This somewhat revealing and interesting component of the game, which arguably is an aspect of all professional sports but is more accentuated as it were in tennis given that it is mono y mono so to speak, became even more pronounced when two opponents were somewhat evenly matched as it were, and victory hinged upon just a few points – which as it turned out happened more often than you might think.  The author became somewhat intrigued by this phenomena, if we may call it that, and he became fascinated with what in professional sports is referred to as The Zone.

As such, it became very clear that in order to get into The Zone, there was a very well documented and well-studied connection between what peak performance and what we might call “clarity of mind.  In turn, this clarity was connected to, and in many respects seemed to be dependent upon, what are even in the sports psychological literature referred to as the development and cultivation of various rituals and practices, both on and off the court, before, during and after matches, in order to facilitate and/or “bring about” these states of mind where peak performance could be “attained”, or in Eastern philosophical parlance, realized.[2]

With this background then, the author while he was playing and studying, began writing – primarily about the so called “mystical experience” which was such an integral part of the Eastern philosophical tradition and its fundamental relationship to The Zone as it was understood in Sports Psychology.  The effort was centered around (and to a large extent this is also true for the Snow Cone Diaries as well as the current work) an attempt to establish a rational grounding, or intellectual footing as it were, within which these states of mind could be better understood and as such better integrated, or at least somewhat integrated, into what the author now calls the objective realist intellectual framework that underpins not just Western academia, but also is clearly the very rational ground of the Western mind, or psyche.

For despite all the author’s education and training, mental and physical gymnastics galore as it were, no one had ever even broached the topic or discussed with him this idea of peak performance and its relationship to the cultivation of clarity of mind, and the related states of consciousness that were associated to these “states” as it were, despite the fact that it appeared to be an almost empirically proven correlation between the two – at least in Sports Psychology circles.  It also became clear over time that this goal of peak performance as it were was not just dependent at some level upon these so-called states of mind, but in fact that that there seemed to be a very direct, causal relationship between the two.  Furthermore, these very same states of mind that were described in the Psychological literature around peak performance were not only clearly an exteremly significant, and somewhat undervalued and under practiced, component of competing as a professional athlete at the very highest levels, but that they were also an integral part of the mystical experience as well as it was described in almost all of the Eastern philosophical literature.  And of course, after some reflection, these states of mind seemed to be an integral component to success in life, however one might choose to define such a thing.

Following the model of Robert Pirsig then, and because the author felt strongly that the ideas that he was exploring, presenting and analyzing were best understood only within the psychological and mental context within which the author himself initially encountered and confronted such ideas, the author felt compelled to take his initial more “academic” works and wrap them around a loosely fictional character which he named Charlie, as well create additional (also loosely fictional) characters to which Charlie was “responding” and “reacting” to in order to try and establish the empirical reality and power of the nature of mind, and along with it the fundamental truth and power of the ancient art of meditation and mysticism to which it is integrally tied.  For perhaps the hallmark of the Eastern philosophical tradition is the emphasis and description of the art of meditation and its relationship to the attainment of these states of mind, what the author calls the Science of the Mind as it were, an altogether Eastern discipline.

Using Charlie as his mouthpiece then, we essentially argue in the Snow Cone Diaries, as Pirsig had done before him, that not only are our current (Western) intellectual models lacking in some very basic and fundamental ways – given the lack of emphasis and focus on the mind and experience itself as basis of reality as we understand it – but that these limitations had, again as Pirsig had argued before him as well, significant implications on how society in the West functioned and how individuals within that society behaved toward each other as well as the nature of the relationship between individuals and (Western) society as whole to the world around them in general.[3]

Given the level of effort and personal sacrifices that were made to publish Snow Cone Diaries, and given that the author is by no means a full time writer and first and foremost has a demanding professional career and responsibilities as a parent that were and are first priority, we never thought that he would embark upon a subsequent work.  We thought we were done.  However, our interest in ancient philosophy and the art of meditation did not dwindle, and the author’s meditation practice continued to flourish and grow and (as it is wont to do as any persistent and schooled meditation practitioner will tell you) the practice itself continued to have a profound impact on us in the following ways as it pertains to this work specifically:

  1. Our own personal conceptions of the nature of reality and the disconnect between it and commonly held and systematically taught “belief systems” which we are taught from early childhood and are presented as “empirically true” in the West,
  2. a continued and increased dissatisfaction of the current prevailing “Western” worldviews and belief systems,
  3. a deeper appreciation for the eternal truths that the very first philosophers from classical antiquity, as reflected in the term the Axial Age, were trying to convey and seemed to be missed or passed over in much of the scholarly work surrounding these ancient texts and authors,
  4. that in fact there were many more parallels and commonalities between these various belief systems that were compiled in classical antiquity throughout “Eurasia”, much more so than was reflected in most if not all of the scholarly and academic work surrounding these traditions, and
  5. the disciplines surrounding the study of the philosophers of deep antiquity were “siloed”, in the sense that the Sinologists (Chinese) weren’t collaborating with the Vedic or ancient Sanskrit scholars and the “Classicists” who studied the ancient Greek philosophers didn’t seem to be collaborating with either of these two disciplines either

Given these facts, and after studying the various traditions from antiquity, again as reflected in the so-called Axial Age, even from a layperson’s perspective it seemed that there were underlying similarities and patterns that were being missed primarily because these disciplines in and of themselves independently requires such a rigorous and deep level of knowledge about the specific domain.  Those that could understand and read ancient Chinese script were not necessarily the same people that knew and could read Vedic Sanskrit, and these people of course were not necessarily the same people that knew ancient Greek or Latin, and in turn these people were not necessarily the same people that could read cuneiform of the ancient Sumer-Babylonians or the hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians for that matter.

However, given that we now live in the Information Age, and that the translations of many of these texts, as well as the underlying meaning and etymologies of the various terms and words of the ancient languages themselves as reflected in the ancient writing systems that developed in the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE throughout Eurasia, are now readily available, the time seemed to be ripe for a generalist of sorts to pull together the knowledge from all these somewhat disparate domains and bring them together in some sort of cohesive whole, in a more comprehensive and somewhat more scholarly fashion than had been done in Snow Cone Diaries, which was more of a personal journey tan it was an intellectual or academic one.

So given that the disciplines and domains of study and research described herein continued to impress themselves upon the author, and given our continued interest in ancient philosophy, and writing even after the publishing of Snow Cone Diaries, we ended up publishing two interim works thereafter that summed up and further explored some of the more esoteric and less well known aspects of Hellenic philosophy and their subsequent influence on the development and foundations of early Christianity, as well as an exposition of the philosophy of the Far East, the latter being and area of research that was relatively new to the author and that was not considered in the Snow Cone Diaries.[4]

The Far Eastern ancient philosophical tradition, what is referred to as ancient Chinese philosophy, which is covered in detail in the current work, is intriguing for many reasons but for the sake of brevity in this Introduction, suffice it to say that the Yijing, what is more commonly known as the I Ching, is arguably the most fascinating and intriguing theo-philosophical work from antiquity, hands down.  And the more the author studied it and was exposed to its origins and influence throughout Chinese history, the more impressed he was with its place as one of the greatest and most intellectual achievements in the history of mankind, one that reached far back into Chinese antiquity (3rd millennium BCE at least) and one that undoubtedly rivaled the Vedas and Avesta as representative of some of the oldest theo-philosophical treatises of ancient man.[5]

Furthermore, as the author began to understand more and more of the nature, content, structure and origins of the Yijing, the most prolific and influential of all of the ancient Chinese “philosophical” works, if we may call it that, it became apparent that its basic architecture, particularly from a numerological and metaphysical perspective, shared many common characteristics of ancient Pythagorean philosophy, in particular as reflected in the symbol that perhaps more so than anything else has come to represent said philosophy, namely the Tetractys.  Following this intellectual thread as it were, the author published what was supposed to be a small academic piece on the similarities from a numerological and arithmological perspective between “Pythagorean” philosophy, or what we know of it, and classical Chinese philosophy as reflected in the I Ching, what is referred to in this work as its more modern Romanized form, i.e. the Yijing.[6]

 

This work in its current form is to a large degree an outgrowth and evolution of the intellectual journey that is documented and mapped in the Snow Cone Diaries, and in particular an outgrowth of research done after Snow Cone Diaries was written exploring the nature and origins of early Hellenic philosophy and its relationship to early Chinese philosophy as well as ancient Vedic or Indo-Aryan philosophy as reflected primarily in the Upanishads, the latter of which was rigorously and systematically studied at the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York under the guidance of Swami Adiswarananda to whom this work is dedicated to.

So while this work can at some level be considered to be extensive revision and expansion of the academic and intellectual pursuits that are reflected in the Snow Cone Diaries, it is distinctive from the author’s first major work in many respects and represents a much deeper dive into the material covered therein, as well as covers topics and areas of inquiry that are not covered.  Having said that, this work is much more “academic” in the sense that it represents – at least from the author’s perspective – a much higher level of scholarship than is reflected in the Snow Cone Diaries, and of course the personal narrative, Charlie himself, has been put to rest (God rest his Soul).[7]

Given the extent of the material covered in this work, the author in no way intends to represent it as an exhaustive study of any of the specific topics that is covered herein.  In fact, each chapter or section of the work could be covered, and is covered, in much greater length in a variety of works that are cited as references and for further study and research.  The author has however taken great pains to try and refer to, and directly cite, the most influential and comprehensive works that cover the various topics in question and of course the interested reader can follow these lines of inquiry and these references to learn more about any given topic.

The specific source material that is used is not only cited directly throughout as footnotes, but is also covered from a much broader perspective in the Sources and Bibliography section at the end of the work.  Perhaps more so than other works from before the 21st century, an era the author refers to as the “Information Age”, this work stands directly on the shoulders of many academics and scholars that have toiled and taken great pains to open up the world of antiquity to the modern Western reader and scholar through countless translations and historical books and records, many of which are now electronically available and upon which easy access the author has greatly relied.

There are no doubt particular sections or chapters which the author has glossed over in a manner that may be considered to be “superficial”, particularly by academics and scholars who have spent the better part of their professional careers studying and writing about the specific topics in question.[8]  However, each of the lines of thought represented in each Chapter of each Part of this work represent a coherent and cohesive whole and in their entirety, and of course for the sake of brevity (as ironic a term that may be given the length and scope of this work), is intended to show as complete a picture as possible in one text.

The approach from a reference and bibliography standpoint is to have significant footnotes and references directly within the material itself rather than, as is the case with most academic works, at the end of a chapter or even at the end of the work.  The footnotes, the explanations and small intellectual excursions which are reflected in the extensive footnotes that are included directly in the text not only serve to give credit to the reference material and the work and analysis put in by other academics and scholars on whose research and work mine ultimately depends and builds upon, but also as sidebar notes that may be of interest to the reader that provide direct links and references to works that the reader can refer to if they are interested in a certain topic that is not covered in detail in this work.[9]

The footnote style that is used is essentially adopted from the writings of Swami Nikhilananda (1895 – 1973), one of the foremost Sanskrit and Vedic scholars in the West in the 20th century.[10]  Nikhilananda’s works have in no small measure influenced the author, as he studied at the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center which he founded in the middle of the twentieth century which was led by the author’s teacher, Swami Adiswarananda from 1973 until his passing in 2007.[11]

In this context, Vedānta, and more broadly what we refer to as “Indo-European philosophy”  in this work, is a central and constant theme throughout this work, in particular with respect to the modern conception of ancient Indian philosophy as it is presented in the teachings and works of Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902), one of the foremost proponents and most influential of the modern “Indian philosophers”.[12]  From the author’s perspective, Vedānta, as reflective of one of, if not the, oldest and richest of the Indo-European theo-philosophical traditions, can (and should) be leveraged as an intellectual and theo-philosophical benchmark of sorts for the recasting of the definitions of knowledge and reality in the West, one of the main thrusts of this work.

 

The work is divided into 4 major sections, Books or Parts, following more or less the intellectual development of mankind since the dawn of “history”, history in this sense being marked by the invention and widespread use of writing after which we have a “direct” or “first hand” exposure to the mind of man, or at least into the minds of the authors of the works that are covered herein.

  1. On Creation and On Metaphysics, Parts I and II: how the ancients looked at the world and defined reality and knowledge (),
  2. On Theology and Physics, Part III: how we came to our current, modern conceptions of reality and knowledge in the West (Part III), and
  3. On Ontology Part IV: a deeper and more comprehensive look at the nature of reality, Being in the sense that it was looked at by Aristotle and Plato as understood through a modern Western intellectual lens, and in particular in light of the knowledge of the East.

The chapters and sections in each of the respective Parts, or Books, are designed and written as much as possible to be modular as much as possible.  By “modular” we mean to say that they are written with the intention, again as much as possible, of being stand-alone essays or dissertations of their respective topics such that the reader can read a particular chapter without necessarily reading preceding chapters.  That is to say, the design of the work itself is such that it need not be approached or “read” in a sequential fashion from start to finish.  And of course as such, some material and content is repeated in the various sections and Parts of this work so that said “modular” design is achieved.  Given the breadth of the topics covered herein, this type of modular design is not only intentional but is almost required in order for the work to have value.  For if it is not read, it of course cannot have the intended impact or influence on modes of thinking which to a large extent the intended purpose of the work.

One of the main underlying themes of the work, especially in Parts I and II, is an exploration and analysis of the potentially shared origins of not just the mythology of the first “civilized” peoples in Eurasia, which the “Laurasian” Mythos hypothesis of Witzel, but also an expanded version of said hypothesis which analyzes and discusses the potential shared the origins of “philosophy” – what is referred to again as theo-philosophy throughout following the terminology of Snow Cone Diaries which brings attention to the fact that the earliest systems of “philosophy” from antiquity are not just analytical or rational systems of thought, but are also fundamentally theological in nature.

Parts I and II of this work are primarily focused on this area in history, the 3rd to 1st millennium BCE when we have introduced into the historical record evidence and documents that outline the Mythos of these early Eurasian peoples, specifically the creation narratives (what we refer to as cosmological or theogonical narratives), which is followed by a detailed analysis of the subsequent theo-philosophical tradition which emerges from, and is fundamentally and intrinsically related to, the underlying comsogonical narrative, i.e. again the respective Mythos.

Part III focuses on intellectual developments that take place in the West post classical antiquity from the intellectual developments that characterize Hellenic philosophy, through the advent of more orthodox religious or theological developments, straight through the Enlightenment Era and Scientific Revolution periods of Western intellectual history where effectively the worldview is overturned and Science, as we define it in more modern terms, begins to eclipse the dogmatic religious and theological worldviews that had dominated the intellectual landscape in the West for some thousand years prior, the so-called “Dark Ages” .

Part III then goes on to look at scientific developments in the 20th century, Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics in particular, which call into question our modern (and pervasive) notions of deterministic, objective based frameworks of reality, what we refer to collectively as objective realism, which represent from the author’s perspective a somewhat unintended byproduct of the Scientific Revolution and which, given their limitations with respect to understanding reality from a comprehensive or holistic perspective (i.e. ontology, or the study of the nature of being or reality), require – in the same intellectual spirit and intent pursued by Kant, Pirsig and other more modern Western philosophers – a wholesale revision in order for not only the two theoretical pillars of modern Science (Classical Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics) to be understood in any meaningful way, but also such that the knowledge and wisdom of the East is integrated into our conception and understanding of reality as well.

Part IV covers in detail much of the material that was first introduced in Snow Cone Diaries with respect to the fundamental incompatibilities of Quantum and Classical Mechanics, going into (theoretical) detail not just with Relativity but also Quantum Theory, as well as some of the philosophical, and ultimately metaphysical, implications of Quantum Theory, covering two interpretative models in particular that the author thinks are relevant to the ontological questions that are the topic of Part IV – namely the Relative-State formulation of Quantum Mechanics by Hugh Everett as well as the pilot-wave theory that is attributed to Louis de Broglie and David Bohm.  The Metaphysics of Quality as presented by Robert Pirsig is also offered up as an alternate model for ontological inquiry given its adoption and incorporation of the direct perception of “intuitive” reality directly into its metaphysics as it were.

Part IV then offers up various alternative interpretations of reality that attempt to present and synthesize what we understand about the nature of reality both from a scientific perspective, as well as from what we might term a mystical or spiritual perspective, models which directly incorporate experiential reality into account when defining reality or the extent of knowledge itself, i.e. what is referred to as epistemology in modern philosophical nomenclature.  The models and analysis in Part IV directly take into account the role of active consciousness, cognition and perception, what in Quantum Theory has come to be known as the act of observation which from a Scientific perspective, at least again from the author’s standpoint, must be taken into account in any formulation of reality and in any definition of knowledge.

The alternative approaches to defining reality and knowledge that are presented and described in Part IV basically synthesize typically “Eastern” and “Western” worldviews, and from the author’s standpoint, are far better suited than existing philosophical or religious intellectual frameworks to prepare us not just as individuals to survive and thrive in the modern, Information Age, but also are much better suited to serve the society as a whole, from a national as well as global perspective, given the level of interdependence and interconnectedness of not just the human race, but also the natural world within which we live and depend upon for our survival moving forward into the future.

The last several chapters of Part IV, much more so than the author originally intended in fact, are dedicated to a fairly lengthy discussion of a relatively modern debate surrounding different ways or approaches to interpret, how best to understand, the life and teachings of the 19th century Bengali (Indian/Hindu) sage Rāmakrishna Paramhamsa, a tradition of course to which this author is closely linked from a theo-philosophical perspective.  Rāmakrishna in this sense, and how he is perceived and approached in these final chapters of this work, is the full manifestation of, and in turn the perfect example of, the limitations of Western “thinking” and the implicit epistemological restrictions and assumptions that while true, are fundamentally limited in their capacity to deal with anything that falls outside of the realm of Science proper and as such is dealt with as a case study of sorts for the need to integrate the Science of the Mind as it were into any ontological framework that we are to choose that would include the knowledge of the East along with the knowledge of the West.

This so-called mystical, or supraconscious experience, which is the intended result of the practice of the ancient art of meditation as it has been passed down to us through various classically Eastern theo-philosophical traditions – in the Upanishads in particular but also implicit in the writings and teachings of Plato and Greek Eleusinian mystery and Orphic traditions and of course in the teachings of Buddha as well – are presented as a necessary and integral component of any “redefinition” of reality and knowledge which, following any sort of rational interpretation of Quantum Theory must take into account the role of the observer and the act of cognition i.e. perception, into account in any coherent and complete model of reality.

Along these lines, various intellectual frameworks and models which include direct experiential reality are explored and discussed at length in Part IV, as well as in the Epilogue, with specific chapters dedicated to the re-interpretation of Upanishadic philosophy as presented by Vivekananda in the early 20th century as well as an objective analysis of the experiences and interpretation of the life of Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna in particular who according to tradition of course was the primary influence and inspiration for Vivekananda’s teachings and life in general.

Rāmakrishna as a mystic then, and mysticism  in general – specifically defined by the practices and experiences associated with the direct perception of the ground of reality and existence itself which is the hallmark of Eastern philosophy – is not only one of the main, recurrent (and under emphasized) themes of ancient theo-philosophy in all its forms throughout Eurasian antiquity as reflected in the material in Parts I and II of this work, but also from an ontological standpoint represents one of the other main thrusts of this work which is covered in Part IV as well as summed up in the Epilogue which follows Part IV.

This “Western” view of Rāmakrishna, which is primarily represented in the book Kālī’s Child (a work which is critiqued at length in Part IV and the first section of the Epilogue as well) is from the author’s perspective a perfect illustration of the fundamental limitations of Scientific inquiry as we understand it in the modern Ear in the West.  An intellectual domain that rests squarely on the implicit, and very often left out, assumptions of not just empiricism and rationalism, philosophical modes of thought which characterized the Enlightenment Era for the most part, but also causal determinism and again objective realism, which provide the very basis for epistemology (i.e. our scope and understanding of knowledge itself) in the West, be they recognized as such or not.

Therefore when it comes to understanding, or again interpreting from a Western intellectual perspective, fundamentally Eastern theo-philosophical constructs such as Satcitānanda, Brahman, Purusha, Dao, or Nirvana, all words and terms that fall outside of Science proper in the West given their lack of empirical, objective reality and yet at the same time reflect concepts and ontological principles that are fundamentally required to come to any sort of understanding of any great sage, saint or prophet in the history of man – Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna included.  The choices we are left with given the modern Western intellectual landscape are the need to either study these domains specifically where these words and their associated meanings originate from, or alternatively expand our intellectual domain in the West to include some sort of corollary to these ideas, what they inherently mean and signify – the latter of which is the approach that Pirsig takes by formulating a new metaphysics which he calls the Metaphysics of Quality but what he unfortunately falls short of doing, a topic covered at length in the Epilogue as well.

This analysis of course lends itself to one of the core and final arguments of this work, namely that the intellectual and metaphysical model that is applied to reality in the West, i.e. our ontological framework, while being extraordinarily powerful from a natural philosophical perspective, i.e. Science, is in fact an inadequate conceptual framework for the comprehension of the full scope of reality and therefore  is in need of wholesale revision and/or significant expansion and extension metaphysically and theo-philosophically speaking in order to support a more broad definition of reality through which a more complete and fuller understanding of existence itself can be at least approached.  Hence the title of Part IV of the work, On Ontology.

 


[1] See Plato, Letters.  Letter 7, aka Seventh Letter 341c – 341d.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 7 translated by R.G. Bury. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.  See http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0164%3Aletter%3D7%3Asection%3D341c.  While the actual authenticity of the letter by Plato is debated by scholars it does for the most part reflect the writing style and philosophy as presented by Plato from the author’s perspective and so while perhaps not written by Plato’s hand, still nonetheless seems to accurately represent something akin to what Plato would write, specifically with respect to the specific part of the work cited herein.

[2] The Psychology of peak performance was spear headed in the Nick Bollettieri Academy in the 70s and 80s by the now well renowned and prolific Dr. Jim Loehr, now founder and Chairman of the Human Performance Institute.  See https://www.jjhpi.com/why-hpi/our-people/dr-jim-loehr.

[3] An overview of Pirsig’s work and his invention of a new mode of thinking to address some of the inherent limitations of the modern, Western worldview which he refers to as the Metaphysics of Quality are covered in some detail in the final section of this work.

[4] These works are Philosophy in Antiquity: The Greeks and Philosophy in Antiquity: The Far East respectively.  Both published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2015.

[5] Tradition has it that Confucius is believed to have said that if he had fifty years to spare, he would spend it to contemplating and studying the Yijing.

[6] The original paper by the author regarding the similarities between Pythagorean philosophy and the Yijing is entitled “Numerology and Arithmology in Pythagorean Philosophy and the Yijing”, published in 2016 and can be found at https://www.academia.edu/27439070/Numerology_and_Arithmology_in_Pythagorean_Philosophy_and_the_Yijing.

[7] Two interim works were published by the author covering Hellenic philosophy and Chinese philosophy specifically that were leveraged as source material for some of the content herein, specifically some of the content in Parts I and II of this work.  See Philosophy in Antiquity: The Greeks (2015) and Philosophy in Antiquity: The Far East (2016), both published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2016.

[8] In particular the author cites the sections on Enlightenment Era philosophy as well as Arabic/Muslim philosophy as examples of Chapters which could be expanded upon greatly and to a large extent do not do justice to the actors and individuals, and the belief systems which they put forward in their writings, described therein.

[9] The footnotes also incidentally serve as reminders and reference points to the author himself so as sections of material are revisited and/or reworked and/or revised, the pertinent sources are readily available.

[10] Swami Nikhilananda is a direct disciple of Sarada Devi (1853 – 1920), the consort and wife of the 19th century Bengali sage Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna (1836 – 1886).  He is also the founder of and subsequent leader of the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York from 1933 to 1973 and is one of the foremost interpreters (and translators) of Vedic philosophy into English in the 20th century.  He has authored definitive translations with extensive commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gītā, and he is also known for providing the definitive English translation of the Srī Srī Rāmakrishna Kathāmrita, commonly referred to in the West as the Gospel of Srī Rāmakrishna, a monumental work covering detailed teachings and events of the last few years of Rāmakrishna’s life as seen through the eyes of one of his foremost (householder) disciples, Mahendranath Gupta (1854 – 1932), or simply ‘M’.

[11] See https://www.ramakrishna.org/ for information regarding the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.

[12] Swami Vivekananda was the first to introduce Yoga and Vedānta to the West at the end of the 19th century.  He was the foremost student and spiritual successor of Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna, a figure who is dealt with at length in Part IV of this work.  Vivekananda’s modern conception of Vedānta and Indian philosophy more broadly, is also covered at length in Part IV of this work.

The Royal Yoga: Patanjali’s Eight Limbs

Charlie was young and naïve enough to believe in his younger days that he could create a new paradigm of reality that assimilated the scientific empiricism of the West with the mystic, meditation of the East.  This is what he and Jenry had toyed around with back in his undergrad days when they had nothing better to do than sit around their run down old apartment, smoke bowls and philosophize about the meaning of life.  An activity as it turned out that became interwoven into Charlie’s thesis in a way he never imagined but he did never quite sort out that 5 dimensional mathematical model beyond anything more than a pencil and paper and some poorly hand drawn images/graphs.

In this model that Charlie conceived of, the individual mind, with meditation as its primary and ultimate source, was the foundation of a reality within which the paradigms of the two seemingly opposite and contradictory views of life – the material and spiritual – could be integrated into a single mathematical model of the universe, be seen as two sides of the same coin.  That endeavor proved illusory though, perhaps too much work for the gladiator to take on, and too much complex math.  And at the time Charlie was into different matters, leading of course to his “extended” thesis work; there were trophies to win, opponents to crush, spoils to be won.  All much more important than trying to dig into multi-dimensional, entirely hypothetical mathematical (and relatively outrageous) models of reality.  First things first for heavens sake.

But Charlie’s thesis, and the attack on the subjective which was the essence of Niels’s position, did form a springboard for Charlie to take a deeper look into this subjective vs. objective world. The same one that Pirsig tried to overcome with his Metaphysics of Quality, but yet still ending up in this same place, one where the intellectual model of reality was framed in a language which had within it the implication of subjects and objects, despite the notion of Quality from which Pirsig attempted to try and build his model, his metaphysics, around.  So Charlie tried to build a cohesive argument for Niels, one that again centered around the fallacy of relying on Reason and Intellect as the hall bearers of truth, and one that just might help him see the light of day.

And as he tried to formulate this argument, he came to the conclusion that Niels had a point, he did, and he most certainly reflected the position of many modern fundamentalist Christian or Muslims for that matter, and even hard core physicists and mathematicians – materialists or objectivists you could call them – who thought meditation and any sort of direct experience of pure consciousness was a fool’s errand that may have some health benefits but couldn’t be considered science, upon which the notion of “reality” in the West was ultimately based, in any meaningful way.

He had begun his argument by exploring the concept of the subjective itself.  What could be considered objective truth?  In every encounter or situation in each person’s life, there is continuity.  That is to say that throughout one’s span of existence, there is always something that binds experience together.  Usually we call this something “I”.  This wasn’t something novel that Charlie had come up with, this was in essence the cogito ergo sum of Descartes, a Western interpretation if you will of age old Eastern philosophical notion of the mind.

But what is this “I” that lays at the foundation of our very existence.  We assume at every corner that we exist.  But have we really delved into the nature of this “I” that provides the framework for our lives?  Charlie believed that the answer to this question to be a resounding “NO!”  Certainly the philosophers throughout the ages had, and the mystics and shamans before them most certainly had, there was plenty of evidence for this as Charlie dug into the development of Western thought for his thesis.  But the everyday folk, the ones that ran the banks and the schools and were in Congress and ran countries, had they really?  Wasn’t this one of the primary themes of Plato, and even the Muslim philosopher Al-Farabi of the 10th century, the importance of the role of the philosopher in society.  Where had this notion gone?  Had it been lost somewhere or was it never really adopted outside of a theoretical construct of a philosopher or two throughout the ages?

And he thought it was here that the main distinction between the East and the West lay.  The eastern philosophical systems believed taught that the search for the nature of “I” represented the ultimate task of life, whereas the western systems relied on objective proof, verifiable results from the interaction between hosts of objects, as the basis for life and reality.  And Charlie thought that it was this obsession with duality, the distinction between subject and object, although the cornerstone to scientific method and the means by which civilization has made so many significant advancements no doubt, had perhaps become an obstacle to the discovery of the very meaning of life itself.  The quest for the answer to that age old question, as old as man itself: “Why are we here and from whence we came?” had been relegated to the world of religion, a marked deviation from Aristotle in fact, where the question of why – causation – was in fact the pillar upon which knowledge was built.

Charlie didn’t know it then, but his very physical and to him very real in the Western sense of the term, practice of the attainment of peak performance on the tennis court, the search for the Zone, from which his journey into Yoga and the art of meditation began, was very much akin to the practice of Kundalini Yoga, or Raja Yoga as espoused by the notorious Samkhya philosopher Patanjali.  From his studies of the works of Vivekananda, as well as his practice of Yoga in general, Charlie kind of knew what Raja Yoga, and the principle of kundalini meant, but he hadn’t quite made the translation to competitive sports quite yet, at least not in the beginning.

And yet in fact, when he strove to achieve peak performance, when he entered that world of complete concentration, achieved via the performance of those subtle rituals on court, what he was really doing was cultivating the control of his kundalini, or inner force, and attempting to leverage it to squeeze every ounce of physical and mental performance out of that frail, physical form of his call the human ‘body’.  Kundalini Yoga, or Hatha Yoga, is a very physical and exact science in many respects, its principles are based upon the artificial inducement of energy through the chakras in the body to achieve or reach higher states of consciousness, effectively the same process Charlie was attempting to bring about do to achieve peak performance.

Raja Yoga on the other hand, the Yoga described by Patanjali in his eight limbs, has a different focus than Hatha or Kundalini Yoga, although it shares with it some of the very same principles and methods.  In the case of Raja Yoga the focus is on the control and purification of the mind, the mental sheathe of the jiva, rather than focus on the physical sheathe, although even in Patanjali’s system, there is a preparatory focus on the physical system as reflected in the 3rd and 4th “limbs” of his eight limbed system which has come to be known collectively in the West as Yoga, namely asana, “posture” or “seat”, and pranayama, “breath” or “life force” control.

Both these limbs however are looked upon in Patanjali’s system as preparatory for higher states of concentration and experiences of consciousness however, as indicated by the last four limbs of Patanjali’s system namely pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses from the external world of name and form, dharana, concentration of the mind on a single physical object, deity or symbol, dyhana, steadfast and unwavering concentration on said object (the act of meditation and the object of meditation remain distinct in this phase), and ultimately samadhi, where the distinction between the object of meditation and the meditator falls away and unity is directly “experienced”.  All of these limbs in Patanjali’s system are meant to hang together and be practiced collectively and constantly, and the physical aspects of Yoga, which are emphasized in most if not all of the Western adaptations of his system, are but a means to the end and not an end in and of themselves.

 

Raja Yoga is one of the four Hindu philosophical systems that Swami Vivekananda taught and integrated into a holistic approach to enlightenment in the modern era all based upon the timeless teachings of Vedanta in one form or another, interpreted for the West in a language that we could understand.  In fact Vivekananda coined the term Raja, or Royal Yoga, given his perspective on its importance within the four pillars of Yoga that were necessary to lead a balanced and liberated life in what he saw, and Charlie certainly was exposed to the same thing, an overly materialistic and capitalistic culture whose main focus was the betterment of the individual at the expense of the whole.

But you can’t really truly understand Raja Yoga unless you have some sort of background in its underlying philosophy which is Samkhya philosophy.  Samkhya is one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy and is fundamentally atheistic, i.e. it’s philosophy does not adhere to or believe in the existence of any anthropomorphic God or deity, but instead believes the universe to be a manifestation of an underlying ground of existence Purusha, the male aspect of the cosmos which when acted upon and combined with the generative female force of the universe, Prakriti, brings about the existence of the physical universe it its various forms as we perceive it.  Samkhya is a fundamentally dualistic philosophy, in the sense that it lays out more than one fundamental principle from which the universe comes into existence, namely the inert Purusha combined with the active principle of Prakriti.  This is juxtaposed for example with Advaita Vedanta where the individual Soul, or Atman, is considered to be one and the same and fundamentally indivisible from the universal Soul, or Brahman, classified accordingly as a non-dualist philosophical system.

In Samkhya philosophy the individual Soul, or Jiva, is bound to its physical form due to desire, desire for pleasure and desire for life.  It is desire that is the glue that binds the jiva to the manifest, physical reality which we all perceive as the human condition.  But this is not the true state of reality, it’s not purest and most unadulterated perspective on reality, and at its core is based upon ignorance of the true nature of the universe and our place in it.  The underlying premise of this philosophical system then is that it is only through the false identification one’s small self, or ego (ahamkara), that the jiva perceives itself as a separate and unique entity bound to a physical form which is subject to birth, growth, decay and ultimate death and destruction, characterized most emphatically by suffering and loss, in this sense it shares many of the same characteristics of Buddhism but its underlying philosophy, as well as the path which it lays out for liberation, are altogether different[1].  In Samkhya philosophy however, and in turn in Yoga as it is interpreted by Patanjali, it is through self-knowledge, atma-bodha, that true liberation can be achieved, where the shroud of ignorance is removed and one’s true identity with the underlying ground of existence, Purusha, is ultimately realized and experienced directly.

It is from this philosophical perspective then that Patanjali articulated his system of Yoga, which lays out, in very much the same way as Buddha laid out his Noble Eightfold Path, the steps and principles upon which one should lead their life in order to facilitate the attainment of this state of perfection, or samadhi.  Yoga as outlined by Patanjali emphasizes the importance of posture, asana, control of the breath, pranayama, and concentration, dharana, all as key tools to be employed by the spiritual aspirant who wishes to be liberated from the bondage of phenomenal existence and ultimately to experience the pure state of consciousness itself, i.e. samadhi, but what is most often overlooked, particularly in the West, is that these physical and mental practices are grounded in a thorough and in many respects unyielding system of morals, ethics and observances that prepare the aspirant, provide the foundation for the aspirant, upon which the more advanced limbs of Yoga are to be based.  The first 2 limbs of Yoga reflect this focus on the necessary grounding of ethics and morality, the way to live, to prepare oneself for the path to liberation, namely yama and niyama.

Yama consists of five “abstentions”; ahimsa, non-violence, satya, truth in thought word and deed, asteya, non-covetousness or the lack of desire and brahmacharya, or abstinence with particular emphasis on sexual activity.  Niyama consists of five “observances”; shaucha, cleanliness of body and mind, santosha, satisfaction or acceptance with one’s state of existence, tapas, or austerities related to physical and mental observances which yield control of the mind, svadhyaya, or study of the Vedic scripture to cultivate knowledge of the Soul which drives human existence, and ishvarapranidhana, or surrender/worship of the ultimate source of creation, i.e. God (Ishvara in Hinduism).

What Swami Vivekananda laid out for the West however, aligned with the teachings of his guru Paramhamsa Ramakrishna, was that in order to gain a more accurate and effective perspective on spiritual life, and ultimate liberation from suffering and bondage achieved, four different aspects of Vedanta should be practiced and honed together as one cohesive system which should guide not only the inner life of the spiritual aspirant, but also the external life of the aspirant as well.  These four pillars of Yoga, as taught by Vivekananda, are Raja Yoga, as expounded by Patanjali, Jnana Yoga, or the pursuit of knowledge from which the fetters of bondage can be broken intellectually, Karma Yoga, or the practice of selfless action which provides the moral and ethical basis for right living for the spiritual aspirant, and Bhakti Yoga, which is love of the divine which propels aspirant along the path, a path which has been aptly described by some as “the razor’s edge” given how precarious and difficult it can be to follow correctly without stumbling along the way (which is why a guru, or guide, is an integral part of the Eastern philosophical teachings, no matter what philosophical school you adhere to).

To Vivekananda, these four perspectives or aspects of Vedanta were to be thought of and taught as a single, coherent philosophical system rather than as independent systems of belief, collectively providing the aspirant with a more complete and expansive guidebook on spiritual life, for the advancement of the human Soul, that could be gained by following one specific school at the neglect of the other three.  This, from Charlie’s point of view, was Vivekananda’s unique contribution to the modern era, he crystalized, synthesized and interpreted Vedanta for the West in a way that could be grasped both intellectually and physically by modern man, just as his teacher, Ramakrishna, had brought all the various religious practices together and illustrated them to be all different paths to the same goal, or different entrances to the same home as he liked to put it.  To Vivekananda, life and the universe was a gymnasium for the Soul, and his interpretation of Vedanta for the West, was the guidebook for the modern spiritual gymnast.

All religious systems, either from the East or the West, espoused morality and ethics as a core fundamental principle for the life of man.  Even the Greek philosophical schools had comprehensive system of ethics at their core.  The Western system taught that these morals and ethics should be followed for the attainment of heaven.  The Eastern theological and philosophical systems however, and arguably the teachings of Christ themselves if they could be parsed from the Book within which they sat, looked at morals and ethics not as something to be followed for attainment of some desire or need, but as a representation of a higher and finer form of truth.  In Aristotle’s terminology it was in virtue that the greatest good could be achieved, and that ultimate happiness could be achieved, and that this virtue was a learned skill and could be cultivated by habit, just as any art form could[2].

In its most pure form as Charlie understood the basic tenets of Eastern philosophy however, and the fundamental principles that underlay morality or ethics in general, was that there was an interconnectedness to all things, all beings animate or inanimate, and leading a moral and ethical life allowed the individual to better comprehend and understand this interconnectedness, or at least abide by it and be in harmony with it.  In Patanjali’s model, arguably the most systemic and well thought out of the systems of Yoga as they survive down to us in modern times which Vivekananda for no insignificant reason termed “Royal” Yoga, consistent with all religious systems in one way or another, sound morals and ethics were a core prerequisite on the path of ultimate liberation or illumination, or in Patanjali’s terminology samadhi, a goal which can be reached only by the practice of sound morals and ethics.

In contrast to the Abrahamic religions which rested their moral and ethical code on the revelation of God as handed down by their respective prophets, to which its followers must abide or they be subject to eternal damnation in Hell, which were wrapped up in mandates of specific modes of worship, Yoga as it emerges as an offshoot of the philosophy of the Vedas, aka Hindu philosophy, in the first few centuries CE as reflected by Patanjali’s Yoga sutras focus on the scientific method of the production of liberation, irrespective and independent of the object of meditation, or God, that one chooses to believe in.

 

All great religions speak of mankind’s special place in the universe of creation.  In the Eastern tradition specifically, as taught by Ramakrishna and in Tibetan Buddhism for example, the uniqueness of the human life, the jiva, as an instrument of the direct perception of the divine and the vehicle of liberation is emphasized.

In the Buddhist tradition, there is a wonderful story, a parable, which illustrates this.  There is a turtle in a great, vast ocean.  And in this vast ocean there is a small ring that floats on its surface somewhere, a ring with a circumference no bigger than a few feet across.  This ring bobs and floats in this vast sea carried by currents and storms and waves.  In this same ocean, there lives a sea turtle.  A turtle which like all turtles must pop his nose above the surface every few minutes in order to breathe and stay alive, even though he lives most of his life under the sea.  It is said that to be born in a human, and have the opportunity for liberation and illumination which is unique to our species, is said to be as lucky as fortunate and as improbable as that very same sea turtle, swimming in the vastness of the great ocean of the universe, popping its head up for air and happening to stick his nose through that small ring bobbing and floating on the surface.  As Ramakrishna so succinctly puts it, “He is born in vain, who having attained the human birth, so difficult to get, does not attempt to realize God in this very life.”

What is it that is so special about the human form?  The Yoga tradition specifically calls out this form as a tool for illumination and realization, in a manner that is quite direct.  Raja Yoga describes how to perfect and hone this human form to prepare it for illumination, how to harness its energy.  This system describes how to perfect the strengthening and flexibility of the body (asanas), use the life force within the body (prana) and direct it upward through the spiritual channels that flow through the human form (chakras) running parallel to the spine (sushumna), for the purpose of moksha, or mukti, of the jiva, or liberation of the soul.

This is the serpent of Kundalini which is implied in the Hindu/Yoga tradition and is explicitly called out in the Tantric Yoga tradition as Shakti, the divine force, typically associated with the goddess Kali that underlies all creation.  This Shakti, or Kundalini, typically lies latent at the base of the spine of the individual centered around the lower three chakras which are associated with the basic, core needs of the human form – eating, sleeping and sexual desire.  The doctrine of Yoga as outlined by Patanjali, although it doesn’t speak of Kundalini directly, is effectively the art of honing and facilitating the upward movement of this energy, up through the system of chakras in the human form as outlined in Tantric systems of Yoga, for the purpose of liberation, or in Patanjali’s nomenclature for the purpose of experiencing samadhi.  Patanjali’s system starts with principles that govern what to avoid (yama) and what to observe or cultivate (niyama), providing for a foundation of ethics, morals and even the basic notion of worship itself as core principles for anyone wishing to practice yoga with the intent of liberating oneself from the world of name and form, the endless suffering that is called out so specifically in the Buddhist tradition, which shares a common philosophical parent with Yoga i.e. the Vedas.

This practice of Yoga is essentially the conscious practice of awakening the energy or life force within each and every one of us, a notion which is very much aligned with the Christian notion of the Holy Spirit.  Tantric Yoga specifically is designed to lift this Kundalini, latent serpent power, to the higher chakras located at the region of the heart, the throat, the forehead and ultimately through the chakra located at the top of the head, the thousand petalled lotus, which once opened yields the state of samadhi.   Once these chakras are opened, through the practice of Yoga and other Tantric rituals that leverage mandalas (visual symbols) and mantras (incantations and sound), the jiva experiences unrefined and unfiltered consciousness, higher and more subtle realms of reality where the distinction between the observer and the observed gives way to the direct perception of divine consciousness, called samadhi in the Yoga tradition or in referred to as satchitananda, Existence Knowledge Bliss Absolute, in the Upanishads.

In this Yoga tradition, one which has been adopted by the West in the last hundred years or so as an alternative in many respects to the Abrahamic religions that have dominated Western thought for almost two thousand years, the human form is perceived as a bundle of energy, energy that is directly related to the cosmic energy from which it draws its source.  Is that not the true meaning behind the notion of mankind being created in God’s image which is a core tenet of Christianity, Islam and certainly Judaism from which this notion ultimately derives, i.e. in Genesis?  The Yoga tradition describes this in more concrete terms though, explaining why we as a species are so special, along with a fairly structured path toward the ultimate realization, the quintessential understanding, of this connection between the creator and the created.

From Charlie’s perspective however, this connection between the individual Soul and the universal Soul is essentially what all of the ancient cosmological systems were about, these same mythological stories of the creation of the universe and mankind’s place in it which are looked upon today as mere stories of the ignorant trying to explain that which these ancient peoples did not understand, notions that we now have a “better” grasp on in the age of science, were actually deep and profound mystical truths whose power had been lost throughout the ages as the metaphors had been watered down into stories that found their way into the literature of various religious systems – the Vedas of the Hindus, the Theogony of Hesiod, the traditions which yielded the cosmologies of the Ancient Egyptians which are found in the Book of Res-Menu, the cosmology inherent in the clearly sacred text of the Derveni papyrus, and of course in Genesis of the Old Testament which sits behind Christianity, Islam and Judaism to which some 4 billion people ascribe to today in some form or another.

The Western religious traditions had abandoned this notion of direct perception and realization of the divine, even though Jesus called it out specifically.  Why?  Because they were designed to unite an empire, unite a people, and in so doing could only ascribe to one path of worship and were forced to formulate, and legislate, their teachings such that the power of the divine was closely guarded by the select few.  But the Eastern traditions went down a different path, where not only was it believed the individual soul could be liberated from the world of ceaseless suffering, but that this liberation was the very purpose to existence, the ultimate goal of the soul as it were, the eudaimonia of Aristotle (typically translated as “happiness”) which is the ultimate purpose (telos) of the human being and thereby defines its existence to a great extent, much more so than the material causes which bring about the existence of the human form which we are so focused on in biology and western medicine today.

The Eastern traditions of Yoga and Buddhism not only lay out a system of ethics and morals within which life should be lived, but also lay out a purpose to life which is based upon the goal of, and fundamental belief in, liberation as the ultimate goal of life.  This is the ultimate freedom from suffering in the Buddhist tradition and the attainment of samadhi of Patanjali’s Yoga.  They all cajole us to go back to the source, to recognize our connection with supreme consciousness.  Not through any specific prophet or message, not espousing one set of beliefs, one God over any other, but the practice of Yoga, meditation and living in harmony with our surroundings as well as the people and society within which we live, in order that this illumination, this liberation, this “happiness” can be experienced.  And in this philosophy, the human form is said to be higher than even the forms of the Gods and Angels, for although in the world of the Gods there lie unlimited desires and powers, the prospect and chance of liberation does not exist.  This view of the mortal life being so special and unique can be found implicit in Greek mythology as well, where the realm of the gods and the realm of men mixed and coalesced for centuries prior to the advent of the historical record, giving rise to its mythology and the Age of Heroes for which arguably the Greeks are perhaps best known.

So it is up to the Jiva then, the individual soul, to determine what to do with this great energy that it has access to, this great opportunity for liberation.  Vivekananda, one of the great modern expounders on Vedanta and Yoga, talks about how all beings are moving toward the same goal whether they know it or not, either consciously or subconsciously.  That the natural flow and path of everything in existence is to get back to its source, whether this is directly perceived or not.  A reflection at the microcosmic level of the omnipresent inbreathing and outbreathing of Brahman, the process of evolution and devolution of all energy and matter from and back to its source, of which the human being represents its most latently powerful and beautiful form.


[1] It should be noted that Samkhya philosophy (Yoga) and Buddhism are related doctrines, both sharing a common parent philosophical system in Vedanta, hence their similarities.

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Classical Mechanics: The Life and Times of Sir Isaac Newton

You couldn’t cover any topic on frameworks of reality, or physics in general, without discussing Isaac Newton.  His work and theories not only form the basis of classical mechanics, but also provide for the foundation within which we perceive our relationship to the world around us to a large degree.

Newton lived from 1642 to 1727 and is best known for his contributions to the world of physics and mathematics, although it is less widely known that he wrote quite a bit on alchemy, theology and ancient studies, and contributed to the fields of optics and astronomy.

The work he is most known for is his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, which lays much of the foundation of classical mechanics, as well as set a new standard for scientific treatises and works in general.  In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries and arguably still represents the primary mode within which most of us understand our relationship to the physical world around us even today.

What Charlie found most fascinating about Newton though, when you looked under the covers a bit and tried to step back from the laws of physical motion that he was most known for, was that he was an interesting and diverse character with a wide range of interests in a far ranging set of fields.  For example in astronomy he invented the first reflecting telescope, and in the field of optics he was the first to demonstrate that light can be decomposed into a spectrum of colors via a prism.

In mathematics, Newton had much more far reaching influence though.  He is most illustriously known for the invention of differential and integral calculus, an innovation he shared credit for with Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), a world renowned philosopher and mathematician in his own right[1].  In a more nuanced and perhaps more profound sense, Newton was known for his application of a mathematical approach to the explanation of the laws of the physical world itself, opening the doors up for theoretical physicians to model more and more subtle aspects of the universe, and providing the foundation for the belief so prevalent today that mathematics more so than any other language or form of expression explained the world around us.

The lesser known aspects of Newton’s works were in the field of alchemy[2], or the occult studies as they were referred to back in Newton’s day.  Newton wrote many treatises and works in this area, and clearly Newton was very intrigued and interested in alchemy in some of its more esoteric elements.  His interest in this field was interrelated with his theological views, and he also authored works on interpretations of the Bible, the Apocalypse in particular.  John Maynard Keynes, the famous economist, after purchasing many of Newton’s extant alchemical treatises, is reported to have noted:

“Newton was not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians.”

Much of Newton’s writing on alchemy is reported to have been lost in a fire, so there remains some question as to how focused and influenced he was on this field of study, but it’s safe to say that his interest in this area was more than tangential or cursory, and it would certainly be naïve to ignore his beliefs and thoughts stemming from his work in alchemical studies when looking at his overall contributions to the physical sciences.  Newton was a scientist in the modern day sense of the word no doubt, but science and religion were not quite yet distinctive realms of thought in Newton’s times as they are today.

Alchemy however, despite its mystical or philosophical underpinnings that in some respects stemmed from Hermitic lore going back to Ancient Greece and Egypt, did contribute to the development of modern day chemistry and medicine to some degree in terms of its approach and methodology; in the sense that it is through empirical study and investigation that the truth behind the nature of reality can be discerned.  Furthermore, some scholars believed that Newton’s principle of the possibility of action at a distance, i.e. gravity, had its source from his work in alchemy – for in alchemical philosophy there are certain laws and principles that govern the transformation of metals at a distance, hence the association of the field with the creation of precious metals like gold and silver through inanimate objects.

Also along the lines of metaphysics and his thinking with respect to the association of bodies, or masses, separated by a distance, in his Hypothesis of Light, Newton posited the existence of a substance of ether that transmitted forces between particles.  This concept, although not an altogether new theory in his day, could be considered a precursor to some of the challenges of modern day physics in explaining the expanding universe (dark matter), as well as some of the problems that are brought forth by the results of the EPR Paradox[3].

As far as his theological beliefs and works go, Newton is known to have studied Hebrew scholarship and ancient and modern theology at great length, and became convinced that Christianity had departed from the original teachings of Jesus.  He felt unable to accept the current beliefs of the Church of England, which was unfortunate because he was required as a Fellow of Trinity College to take holy orders.  The Church of England however, was more understanding and sympathetic to the ideas of Newton than the Catholic Church was with Galileo, and King Charles II issued a royal decree excusing Newton from the necessity of taking holy orders.  More specifically the decree specified that, in perpetuity, the Lucasian[4] professor need not take holy orders which kept Newton in the clear from the Church’s wrath with respect to his studies thankfully.

Alchemy then, as understood by scholars of Newton’s time, clearly represents a wholly different branch of human thought than science or theoretical physics as they are defined today.  But it’s clear from the life and works of Sir Isaac Newton, that this hard separator and delineation of the fields of theology/religion and science/chemistry were not always so marked.  And yet ironically, you could argue that Newton’s work more so than any other man created the boundary that rifted these two branches of thought from Newton’s time until modern day.

So you could look at his work as a whole into the study of the nature of light, his interest in astronomy and the planetary motions, interest in the language of mathematics as an expression of the nature of mechanistic laws, alongside his interest in the occult and alchemical studies, as metaphysics and mystical in nature to some degree.

What Charlie found interesting then in looking at the life of Isaac Newton, and considering all of his works and contributions to many branches of thought which represented what his mind was interested in, was that Newton must have had a very broad view of the nature of reality that incorporated the mystical and theological, as well as the implicit belief that the world of physical objects around him could be explained mathematically.  Moreover, that there were in fact fundamental laws of the universe which could be arrived at by inspiration (the establishment of a premise or hypothesis) combined with experimentation and measurement to validate the theories that were postulated, the process by which stemmed from his work in alchemy to at least some extent.

From Charlie’s perspective, to look at the conclusions that Newton came to with respect to the world of classical mechanics without considering his beliefs and work in theology and alchemy, would be like tasting a salad without dressing – yes it would be the same salad without the dressing, the same underlying physical and chemical structure of lettuce, but it would lack flavor, and all of the subtleties and intricacies of the taste of that very same salad with the dressing.  And it’s Newton’s alchemical, theological and philosophical beliefs that were the dressing to the salad of his work in classical mechanics and mathematics.

No matter how much focus is given to Newton’s works in what we would consider unscientific realms by modern day standards, he is clearly best known for his tenets and postulates in the field of classical mechanics, where he established the laws of motion and interactions between bodies that for the most part stand until this day.

The work where he presents his theories in this field, these laws, is in his treatise Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or “The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” published in 1687 when he was 45 years of age.  Ironically, given its title, Newton most likely viewed his work in this area as philosophical in nature, and yet the work became the foundation upon which classical mechanics, and arguably theoretical physics, was built upon in the subsequent three centuries since he authored the work.

Newton’s Three “Axioms, or Laws, of Motion” as he refers to them as, are[5]:

  1. Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed thereon [The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force.]
  2.  The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed. [The acceleration of a body is parallel and directly proportional to the net force F and inversely proportional to the mass m, i.e., F = ma.]
  3.  To every Action there is always opposed an equal Reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts [The mutual forces of action and reaction between two bodies are equal, opposite and collinear.]

These Axioms or Laws as Newton referred to them, describe the relationship between the forces acting on a body and its motion due to those forces.  Each of the laws was also described in mathematical terms, formulas that described the laws which they represented.  Newton then used these laws to explain and investigate the motion of many physical objects and system.  For example he showed that these laws of motion, combined with his law of universal gravitation, explained Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, thus removing the last doubts about helio-centrism and advancing the Scientific Revolution.

In effect, with these three laws, Newton created the framework of subject-object metaphysics, which underpins our perception of reality as a relationship of objects and their behavior with one another and our relationship with them – the subject – which for the most part stands to this day, outside of the realm of quantum mechanics at least[6].

The truth that lie in these laws, and the mathematic formulas Newton laid out to describe them, followed by the corroborating evidence and empirical studies that have born out the validity and accuracy of the underlying formulas and equations created by Newton over the last three centuries, have established these laws as immovable facts, arguably more so than any other abstract scientific construct since the dawn of civilization.

The problem with this is, at least from Charlie’s metaphysical point of view at least, is that despite how important these constructs were to the formulation of modern science and in all its grandeur, they have created a wall of abstraction around our view of reality that has now become very difficult to climb, even in the world of quantum mechanics where the very existence of the walls between subjects and objects has been proven to be non-existent.

But the import and gravity (no pun intended) of Netwon’s laws was more than just the establishment of the core set of laws that governed the behavior of mass, or even the method itself for arriving at truth or reality (mathematics), these laws and the means by which laws themselves and the ultimate truth were arrived at, actually segregated out fields and branches of thought that described reality and truth, from those that did not.  Objects were real, you could describe the laws that governed the behavior of objects, and you could verify the validity of these laws through experimentation.  Any field of study that did not abide by these principles was not science, and therefore was subjective in nature, open to criticism and differing points of view because they were not real in an objective sense, and in extreme cases not even worthy of scientific study.

Consider the following question: “If someone asked you what the only thing you remembered from Physics was, what would your answer be?”  Charlie wasn’t a betting man but he thought that there was a high probability that the answer most given by the broadest range of people would be quite simply – every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  Charlie himself actually had these words burned in his brain during his boy hood school days (which was saying something because his brain didn’t retain that much to begin with).  He wasn’t sure how those eight words had been burned into his mind, but they were there.  They were with him always, like a key ring of sorts, a key ring into understanding the world around him and that lay at the foundation of his perception like a lens through which he viewed the world around him.

And he considered that if you asked people of today a follow up question, as to who was responsible for putting forward this seemingly unquestionable and ineffable truth, they might not be able to tell you that it came from the mind of a Sir Isaac Newton, but for sure they could tell you what the law was.  The law was so simple, so elegant, and so beautifully explained, and it explained and reflected so many phenomena in the world around us of senses and objects that we all called reality.

So stop for a second, consider the Snow Cone, the holy grail of the athlete whose success relies wholly on belief and preparation, that which all winning and performance could be contributed to, linked by the principle of cause and effect and that every action must and does have an equal and opposite reaction – and what you are left with is utter and complete awe at the simplicity of the law itself, and how it binds us to the world we live in, and the profound affect it has had in the shaping of millions and millions of minds over the past few centuries – and the massive enormous problem that would unfold if it was actually just a misconception of reality based on limited facts and belief, just as the Charlie’s belief in his success on court was based upon the consumption of the Snow Cone.


[1] There was some controversy about which of the two actually came up with the calculus first, but the most likely explanation is that they both came to their conclusions independently.  Newton was known for not publishing his work until much after it was authored, causing part of the confusion in this case.

[2] Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher’s stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base metals into the noble metals gold or silver, as well as an elixir of life conferring youth and immortality. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alchemy.

[3] The EPR paradox is an early and influential critique leveled against quantum mechanics that still remains unexplained to a large extent by modern day quantum mechanical theory.  The critique was crafted by Einstein and his colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen (EPR) where they designed a thought experiment that proved that two particles in two different systems could be related to each other, i.e. affect the outcome of an observed state of each other, whilst having no classical contact or disturbance.  This poses problems to quantum theory because it establishes that either the theory is incomplete (hidden variables premise) or that the particles are communicating with each other faster than the speed of light which would obviously break every premise of theoretical physics that has been built off of Einstein’s concepts of Relativity.

[4] The Lucasian Professor is the title given to the incumbent of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, and is widely regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious academic posts.  It is currently held by the famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

[5] The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, By Sir Isaac Newton as translated into English by Andrew Motte in 1729.

[6] As outlined by the author Robert Maynard Pirsig (born September 6, 1928), an American writer and philosopher who is best known for his philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (1974) and Lila: An Inquiry into Morals (1991).  See also http://members.tripod.com/~Glove_r/wimple-index.html for a good review of Pirsig’s subject object metaphysics (SOM) versus the metaphysics of quality (MoQ).

The Snow Cone: It All Rests On Faith

Charlie thought some more about this idea of cause and effect, this underlying law of all subject-object metaphysics as Pirsig[1] defined it.  This premise that in fact reality was represented only by things you could touch, see, taste or hear; or the perception of the world around us via the 10 Indriyas, five for internal processing and 5 for external processing (yes that means poop).  The invariant objects as perceived by the human mind/body complex as described by Bohm.

And in this model, this framework or map within which we all perceive the world around us, despite the fact that quantum theory tells us that the invariant was in fact quite variant, and that reality is more accurately described as a potentiate quantized state rather than a definite concrete system of objects in a well defined place and time, we all nonetheless have this blind faith in the reality of cause and effect and the absolute truth in the existence of the material world.

This basic principle of the behavior of interacting things and correlation, that are real and can be perceived or measured by our senses or extensions thereof, is a core part of the model or map of the world which we all carry around with us through our daily lives.  Altogether reflected and built upon the rock of our foundation of modern day science and physics, namely Newton’s laws of motion, the most notable of which being every action has its own equal and opposite reaction.

It was this model, these underlying assumptions that in turn led Gavin to postulate that it was only this verifiable set of perceived reality upon which any truth could be constructed, that anything other than this was purely subjective and must be categorized as an emotional experience not to be confused with hard reality.

And Charlie thought the best way to describe this paradox, this implicit irony of the premise upon which Gavin rested his arguments, was to relay the story of the Snow Cone.  For Gavin for sure knew what the Snow Cone was, and why it was so critical.

As the story goes….  they sat in the back of the car on the way home from training.  It was Hawaii, one of the legs of the Satellite tournament that took you through a few Hawaiian Islands, not a bad stop for a few weeks.  It was the tail end of the US circuit, and a pretty big trip right at the end of the year, so it wasn’t a bad place to pick up points.  Most of the solid players were off playing larger tournaments for more money or more points, and the rest of the big boys were winding down their year.

They were coming back from a training session, back from the courts.  Gavin had been doing well that week, he’d won a few big matches.  And on their way back from the courts, Charlie could remember them talking about practice, and about ritual and habit, and what the ingredients of Gavin’s success during the past few days might be stemming from.

Gavin stated jokingly, almost confessionally, “Well I had this snow cone the night before my first round, and I played a great match.  So of course before my second round I had to go back to the same little shop and get my snow cone.  Low and behold, I took my second round opponent apart as well.  And well then there you have it.”

Charlie and their other training partner laughed.  Of course, they all knew.  As professional athletes they all knew the importance of habit and ritual.  They were superstitious as the non-athletic world used to term them.  And they were.  Most certainly.  But it was not a religious belief per se.  It was a belief in the natural order of things in the universe, of the belief in cause and effect.  An extension of Newton’s laws of motion and interpreted into their own daily lives.

And that was when Charlie stated matter of factly, “If you think you’ve won because of the snow cone, then you have won because of the snow cone.”  And there it was.  No plainer truth had ever been told really.  Like saying, “it is what it is”.

But Charlie thought about now after the fact.  That habit of getting that snow cone the night before matches, that ritual, just how significant was it as it related to your performance and success on court the next day?  It was an interesting question really.  But what it boiled down to, was that the determining strength or correlation of the cause and effect relationship, was absolutely and most certainly tied to the individual’s belief in the relationship.  It was the belief that drove the truth to be self evident, for without the belief, the snow cone simply represented a matter of chance that happened to occur, lying outside of the primary cause of the on court performance.

It was that simple really.  People talk about how athletes are superstitious.  It’s because they understand the interconnectedness of everything, they see it in their quest to control and manipulate the world around them.  They don’t necessarily stop and think about it, break it down like that, but that’s the core of it.  They know that in order to become the athletes that they are, in order to achieve levels of performance that most would not even be able to dream about much less execute on, they must train and practice, over and over again, until the training becomes habit and the preparation leads to performance, and there is no doubt left, they just drop into the place where one action follows the next.  Their ritual.  The zone, where the body/mind system transcends thought and simply acts and reacts, with some level of strategic processing allowed to continue to direct and orchestrate the big picture items such as stamina, strategy adjustments, etc.

In the case of professional tennis: to shape matches, subject-object behavioral systems at their most raw, into Wins and ultimately points.  It was their belief system that drove them to practice, to do whatever it took to drive peak performance on a regular basis.  If you could do it, if you believed it was a core ingredient to your success, then you must do it.  No question.

If you think you’ve won because of the snow cone, then you have won because of the snow cone.

That was what they had decided.  In fact, it was simply truth.  They were just stating it.  Establishing its credence as had been done by so many athletes before them.  And this simple truth had its basis in the context of rational and physical reality models that they had learnt growing up, at school and otherwise, in all of the different countries and cultures that represented modern day Western society.  The model, the map, was the same.  And no one knew how to navigate this map better than the professional tennis player, who had only himself to rely on to create the effortless beauty of striking a tennis ball with microscopic precision over and over again until you beat your opponent into submission with that very same beauty like beating a horse to death with a stick.  And that beauty was mental as well as physical, and all of the things that required the athlete to do to achieve that level of performance which were absolutely essential.

Like the snow cone for example.

So Charlie took this snow cone principle as it were, and broke it down.  What about this direct relationship of cause and effect?  Which at some level you could argue did describe elegantly the small interrelationships of all actions or events.  Was the principle off somewhat?  Did it need revision?  Or was it quite simply that we had taken the model too far?  Mistaken the map for the territory as it were.

Charlie considered that the relationship was deeper than Newton implied, more subtle and more complex.  And Charlie knew that modern day physics was exploring this complexity at the subatomic layer, which had very different laws that governed the behavior of systems.  In the subatomic world, directly called out the act of the perceiver, and had to recognize that the act of perception itself, the observance of a given system, had its own specific affect on the system itself and was a determining factor in the outcome of a given event[2].

… the indivisibility of the quantum of action, which implies that when we observe something very precisely at the atomic level, it is found that there must be an irreducible disturbance of the observed system by the quanta needed for such an observation (the fact behind the derivation of Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle)[3]

So what you were left with quite simply was…

If you think you’ve won because of the snow cone, then you have won because of the snow cone.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_and_the_Art_of_Motorcycle_MaintenanceZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (ZAMM) is a 1974 philosophical novel, the first of Robert M. Pirsig‘s texts in which he explores his Metaphysics of Quality.  The book sold 5 million copies worldwide.  It was originally rejected by 121 publishers, more than any other bestselling book, according to the Guinness Book of Records.  The title is an apparent play on the title of the book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. In its introduction, Pirsig explains that, despite its title, “it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

[2] Referring to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and wave (pilot-wave) theory.

[3] David Bohm, ‘The Essential Bohm’.  Pg 72.

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