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DEBASHISH BANERJI, Ph.D.
Dean of Academic Affairs, University of Philosophical Research
Ph.D., Art History, University of California, Los Angeles.
Author of “The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore”
Author of “Seven Quartets of Becoming: A Transformative Yoga Psychology Based on the Diaries of Sri Aurobindo”
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In the second week of the Fall quarter, UPR’s graduate courses are unfurling beautifully and discourse has spurred between our fantastic student body and faculty. Cross-temporal pursuits are of plenty at UPR and it seems to be only appropriate to recommend some of the great texts being offered in our autumnal coursework.
In Richard Geldard’s course, The Birth of Consciousness in Early Greek Thought, Heraclitus‘ Fragments begins the in-depth mapping of consciousness and its origins within the Western world. Fragments is a collection of Heraclitus’ body of work, of which only fragments unfortunately remain for us to decipher. A postmodernist long before the term was coined, Heraclitus and his thoughts revealed within Fragments show us glimpses into the continuance of the human experience and its origins in familiar, albeit ancient, time and situation.
In Fragments Heraclitus writes:
Just as the river where I step
is not the same, and is,
so I am as I am not.
People need not act and speak
as if they were asleep.
Not to be quite such a fool
sounds good. The trick,
with so much wine
and easy company, is how.
Ephesus, Heraclitus’ home city, was an urbanized and bustling metropolis, its population spanned from the 10th Century B.C. to the 15th Century A.D. It was a place where cultures, mythologies and beliefs were accumulated to such a point where they could be compounded and where identities could be constructed. Much like a contemporary city such as Los Angeles, which can be perceived as a generator of modern-day pop culture (a product of appropriation and compounded identity), Ephesus faced similar postmodern and existentialist dilemmas that can give us perspective into our own times.
Dr. Geldard in his course offered this Fall, gives us an in-depth and thoughtful account of Heraclitus’ philosophy, providing for our students a perspective on the history of consciousness that is precious in the fractured histories of today. A key to much of Western philosophical thought, from Plato to Nietzche and Heidegger, Heraclitus remains relevant today as he ever was.
Check out Richard Geldard’s fantastic book on Heraclitus, which sheds light onto Heraclitus’ Fragments and continues the rumination of such a seminal philosophical text: http://www.rgbooks.com/Remembering_Heraclitus.htm
Thoughts on an Almost-Epiphany
Richard Geldard, Ph.D.
At this, the beginning of another quarter of learning and study in the wisdom traditions, I would like to offer this comment on the state of our inquiries, whether it be in philosophy, psychology or religion. As often happens in my case, I come upon some language that sets off a train of thought, and in this case it was a recent book review. In it the reviewer makes reference to Buddenbrooks, the fictional account by Thomas Mann of the decline of a German family. The following paragraph struck a chord:
Thomas Mann, of course, became the master of describing the almost-epiphany….In Buddenbrooks, he famously depicts the soberly industrious, aging Senator Thomas Buddenbrook, who has recently read Schopenhauer, awakening one night with the blissful realization that individual consciousness is a mistake and death will release us back to unity with the blind, unconscious will that is the endlessly creative essence of all that exists.
Mann’s depiction of the “blissful realization” of his protagonist interested me for two reasons. The first is the reference to an “almost-epiphany,” making me wonder about the difference between ‘almost’ and simply, ‘an epiphany.’ It appears that Mann is hedging here, not willing to grant his character a genuine insight. Then later, he writes that the great universal will sought by all spiritual aspiration is “both blind and unconscious,” leaving us with a unfulfilled unity at best.
Mann’s choice, perhaps, reflects his own personal sense of a greater consciousness very different from our own private awareness. We might say that this conviction is the result of a young man’s uncertainty, Mann having been only twenty-five when he wrote the novel.
What came to me in reading the paragraph from the book was the sense that we, too, may find ourselves in a similar position. We seem to have ‘almost’ insights and perhaps sense a blind, unconscious reality beyond our limited perceptions. But the wisdom tradition that we study is deeper and more illuminating than Mann’s choice of language. It seeks to penetrate the “blind and unconscious” terrain of our seeking. And if that is so, it is our task to reflect deeply and to engage the material we study with the same vigor and intensity which gave it life long ago.
When, for example, I return as I do this quarter to the ancient fragments of Heraclitus, written down twenty-five hundred years ago, I see him saying to his students, “Do not act and speak as if asleep,” and then offering this encouragement to the seeker: “You would not find out the limits of the soul, even by traveling along every path, so deep a logos does it have.” And we learn from his work that the logos, or ground of being, we seek is far from blind or unconscious and through grace, attentive introspection and study we can have more than an ‘almost-epiphany’ and find ourselves enveloped in an all-seeing and conscious unity.
Richard Geldard, Ph.D.
PhD, Dramatic Literature and Classics, Stanford University
Full time Professor at UPR, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Yeshiva University Doctoral Faculty, Pacifica Graduate Institute Author of ten books on Early Greek philosophy and the thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson [www.rgbooks.com]
The following is an interview of Dr. Debashish Banerji, Dean of Academics at UPR, by Assumpta Oturu:
1) What is Integral Transformation? Is there any distinguishable difference from what is commonly known?
One of the biggest problems related to the crisis of our times is fragmentation. Fragmentation is present at the social and cultural level, but it is also present at the psychological level. Integrality means complex unity – it is the discovery of sources of integration within the human psyche which are based on a principle of unity behind the fragmented diversity of our nature. Integral transformation addresses the different components and needs of the human psyche and integrates them in a complex dynamic unity. We transform the present functioning of the human system by addressing its different components and integrating them.
2) Why the focus on Sri Aurobindo for a) the workshop and also b) your book?
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was a modern Indian scholar and philosopher educated in the Classics at Cambridge University and thus well schooled in the post-Enlightenment ideals of creative freedom and social critique. He was one of the founding figures of India’s anticolonial movement. But, looking for the sources of the human condition, he drew on traditions of Indian yoga to develop a transformational psychology, which could develop the full potential of the individual and at the same time would universalize and integrate him/her. I have found this transformational psychology to be significant in its comprehensiveness and the possibilities it opens up for human potential and world transformation.
3) What is the significance and the benefit of attending the workshop?
The attendee will get an overview of the components and dynamics of the human system in terms of its structural relationships and transformational practices. By contemplating these, they will be able to develop their own practices towards an integral transformation.
4) Is the workshop informational or practical? Will be there exercises, which participants can apply later after having attended the workshop?
Both. It will convey a structural and relational understanding of the human being and introduce practices towards achieving an integral transformation. These practices will be in the nature of a toolbox, to be deployed creatively according to individual propensity.
5) When you wrote the book, who was your target audience?
The “scholar-practitioner.” In our times, there is a greater and greater need felt to blur the distinction between these two roles. In premodern times, scholarship and “care of the soul” were concerns that went hand in hand. In my book, I address contemporary theories of transpersonal psychology and postmodern philosophy so as to extend theit discourse in terms of the boundaries of human possibility. This is the theoretical aspect of the book. But it also addresses transformative practice, which is why I see it as a work of transformative psychology more than transpersonal psychology.
6) Is there any relation between the book and the workshop?
Yes, the workshop attempts to present the ideas of the book in a more practical and practicable form.
7) How relevant is Sri Aurobino to the challenges of today’s globalized world?
I believe he is very relevant. We are more and more becoming aware of the fact that our problems cannot be solved by external engineering, whether social, political or technological. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see.” But to “be the change” requires an in-depth understanding of ourselves and a practical approach to transform ourselves. Moreover, modernity has given us the norm of individual freedom, so that premodern regimented practices fail to appeal to a majority of our culture. Instead a creative practice leading towards integrality in diverse ways is much more in tune with our contemporary subjectivity. Sri Aurobindo helps us to discover such a practice by sharing his findings with us and giving us tools for exploration and experimentation.
On July 17, the Washington Post published a review by the columnist Michael Dirda of two new books featuring aspects of the wisdom tradition. This unusual choice by Dirda is less surprising when we note that this Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Post received his Ph.D. in comparative literature in medieval studies and European romanticism from Cornell University.
This review is of interest to the UPR community because these new books reflect the growing interest in heterodox opinions in the current culture. By way of drawing in more orthodox readers, Dirda begins his review with a nod to Jung, a figure who spans orthodoxy in contemporary culture and the heterodoxy in the wisdom traditions:
“The psychologist C.G. Jung — who was deeply interested in alchemy and astrology — might label the simultaneous appearance of these two similar-sounding books as an instance of what he called “synchronicity.” In truth, though, John V. Fleming’s “The Dark Side of the Enlightenment” and Paul Kleber Monod’s “Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment” are surprisingly different, even though they both survey what we usually, and rashly, dismiss as pseudoscience from the mid-17th to the early 19th century.”
That our culture “rashly” dismisses much of the esoteric is no surprise, but in condemning this neglect as being without due consideration, Dirda is suggesting that so-called “normal” educated readers might find these books and the material in them worthy of attention, even important as offering what he later calls “absolute wisdom.”
Here is the heart of Dirda’s review:
“As Fleming reiterates about this period, “The mainstream of European thought was not materialist but sacramental. In the sacramental view, the material and visible world paralleled another that was immaterial and invisible.” Science, magic, religion — they are all attempts to understand what is hidden from us, and sometimes the three blur together. Isaac Newton, as is well known, left hundreds of pages of notes on alchemy and astrology. Benjamin Franklin was a member of an elite Freemason Lodge called “The Nine Sisters.”
If Fleming’s book, despite much interesting material, feels slightly rambling and inconclusive, Monod’s impresses by its scholarly detail. This is a serious yet lively work, chockablock with facts, anecdotes and original research. Its focus, however, is restricted to Britain and, as such, is both an extension of, and correction to, Keith Thomas’s classic “Religion and the Decline of Magic.” Monod doesn’t focus on folk practices or beliefs, however; instead, he studies written texts and how they were used.
Moreover, he early on makes clear a point similar to Fleming’s controlling theme: “The basic premise of occult knowledge is that a search for hidden causes in nature may lead towards something higher than nature: absolute wisdom, supernatural power or the divine.” Naturally such an ambition can readily verge on the heterodox, not to say the diabolical, given its echo of the serpent’s insidious promise, “You shall be as gods.”
If you were a would-be alchemist in the late 17th century, which books would you want in your library? Monod lists the top three: (1) “The Divine Pymander” of the legendary Hermes Trismegistus (this is a translation of the first 14 books of the “Corpus Hermeticum”); (2) Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s “Three Books of Occult Philosophy”; and (3) the “Ars Notoria,” often called the “Little Key of Solomon.”
Even though Dirda gives the standard warning of potentially diabolical influences from such esoteric mysteries, these books offer an opportunity to study current thinking and research, both valuable for graduate study as well as offering useful knowledge.
Both Fleming’s and Monods’s new books are moderately priced, although Monod’s is over $30 for its 440 pages. Both, however, are cheaper on Kindle, and for those who may not be aware, the Kindle Reader can be downloaded free from Amazon.
In a provocative article in Smithsonian Magazine by Ron Rosenbaum, he describes a luncheon meeting with Lisa Randall, the Harvard-tenured theoretical physicist and cosmologist on the subject of dark matter and dark energy, those mysterious entities that make up 96% of the universe.
It is a fine interview, but cosmic mysteries aside for a moment, what could be more interesting to our work here at UPR is where the conversation went following lunch and into the dessert phase. Rosenbaum brought up the question of inner space rather than outer space and here is where the conversation went:
“Although Randall’s work takes her thoughts into outer space, it is a question about another dimension, inner space, that she gives the most elaborate answer to during our lunch. The subject comes up near the end, as she is spearing forkfuls of my blueberry cobbler. I ask her about human consciousness—the dark matter within us—namely whether she has thought about the mind/brain question: Is the mind the product of the brain, all our thoughts neurochemically determined (as the “materialists” say), or is the mind not a slave of the physical brain, somehow capable of free will (as the “dualists” believe)? Or can we never answer that question? The philosopher Colin McGinn calls himself a “Mysterian” as an homage to the ’60s one-hit wonder band (“96 Tears”) Question Mark & The Mysterians because he thinks our consciousness may never be capable of comprehending the mystery of its own nature.
Randall seems to take McGinn’s argument as a challenge: “First, I think it’s always a mistake to say ‘never,’ because we probably can understand a lot more about it even if we don’t ultimately understand it. Second, we haven’t been trying to answer this question for a very long time. We understand a lot of things now that we didn’t understand before. And it’s terrifically hard, because we don’t even know what we mean by consciousness.”
What Randall talks about when she talks about consciousness is a continuum.
“I do think one mistake we often make is we think of it as a binary thing, like we’re either conscious or not conscious. I think there’s a spectrum of consciousness and I think it’s interesting to study that—the difference between a plant and a dog, the difference between a dog and a baby, between a baby and a slightly older human… I think it’s sort of a continuum.” Looking at it that way, she says, “would be a good start.”
The notion of consciousness as a continuum is, I believe, central to a proper place to examine its nature and by extension, our nature as well. What we call genius, in all fields of endeavor, should be properly understood as an example of a continuum of consciousness, just as there exists a lower scale of consciousness in some people and in animal and even plant life. For example, watching the movements of a paramecium under the microscope we would have to agree that it possesses a certain degree of consciousness as it looks for nourishment and avoids danger. When a tree develops a chemical weapon in its leaves to ward off insects it too displays a degree of consciousness on the continuum.
That human beings are capable of broadening their consciousness in the continuum is not only a function of evolution but can also be self-aware, intentional, and a self-developing and self-enhancing attribute of our nature. In that sense we are unique in nature. And as we learn in the work of geniuses like Lisa Randall and her fellow explorers of the universe, we come ever closer to the unanswered question: what is consciousness? In exploring that question we acknowledge the importance of the word “Research” in the name of this university.
Richard Geldard, Ph.D. (Full-Time)
PhD, Dramatic Literature and Classics, Stanford University
Commentary by UPR Professor Richard Geldard, Ph.D. -
In the latest issue of “The New York Review of books,” Michael Greenberg reviews Hallucinations (knopf), the latest book by neurologist and physician Oliver Sacks. The review begins with this passage:
Oliver Sacks is the scientist-as-artist, a rare species nowadays but one that flourished in the mid-nineteenth century and that almost single-handedly he has kept alive. His sensibility is Victorian in the best meaning of the word: reformist, literary, historical—empirical of course but speculative as well, in the tradition of the grand theorists of that less specialized time. As a neurologist, Sacks is a clinician above all, an unusually close listener to his patients’ symptoms and stories. He prefers to look through a wide-angle lens rather than a microscope. His impulse is to amplify his observations, to look beyond the minute workings of the brain to the varieties of human experience itself, something he has done much to map out in the medical case histories that comprise the core of his finest writing.
This isn’t to suggest that he doesn’t value the groundbreaking research of neuroscience’s current pioneers, who are in the process of adding, in steady increments, to our understanding of memory and perception, but rather that his particular mission, as I suspect he sees it, is to apply their findings philosophically, to the soul.
Although this introduction appears at first to fall closer to the empiricist and scientific rather than philosophical and esoteric spectrum, I would argue that this description of one of our most important observers of the human condition may well serve as a role model for much of what we teachers and students do at UPR.
The philosophy and psychology we teach and study also moves in a continuum of human knowledge and condition, one which in the broader world moves from the strictly material and empirical through the subjective, speculative, esoteric to mystical nature of what it means to be fully human.
We here are constantly judging and being judged as to where on this continuum we live and work. It should be clear enough that this university, arising from and connected to the Philosophical Research Society, celebrates the esoteric and mystical as it is reflected in the wisdom traditions of world cultures. It is also clear that as such, our identity confronts a historical tendency away from the wisdom traditions in favor of scientific and empirical knowledge, both increasingly reductionist in character.
What Oliver Sacks represents is, I would argue, an effective and accurate measure of how to confront that reductionism. His work holds out the possibility of a sacred, even mystical element that we here regard as both true and necessary if humanity is to survive and be fully human. And what is the salient quality that Sacks displays? It is wonder, that underpinning of all genuine philosophic inquiry, and that quality or temperament that makes us human. But we also have to recognize that this new book is entitled Hallucinations, which are defined as sensory experiences of something that does not exist outside the mind, caused by various physical and mental disorders, or by hallucinogenics, or by what sacred peoples call entheogens, or “being with the god.”
Sacks understands that in these disorders and extreme alterations of what we call “normal,” there are signs and symbols of experience that are sometimes evocative of the transcendental. Here, for example, is a description from the writer Elissa Schappell describing her experience of a seizure:
I am suddenly serene … rising. There is the unseen life, the illuminated world, shimmering, flooded with more light than seems possible, rushing into my palms and the soles of my feet, the air liquid with light, so much I should be able to scoop it into my hands like water. It fills the corners of the room, runs down the walls. I am ecstatic. I don’t want it to end. Not now, not yet, just as I’m about to understand something.
As onlookers we are terrified by the sight of a seizure, and yet what are we to make of this description? For Sacks, this is the journey he is celebrating as a physician, and one we too can celebrate. Greenberg ends his review with this paragraph:
This chasm between actual and socially accepted experience is exactly what Sacks, with his gift for listening to his patients, is able to pick up. Throughout his long career, the transcribing of his patients’ experiences has been a kind of necessity, the truest way to comprehend and “come to terms with them emotionally.” This unique attentiveness has not only amplified our understanding of the range of human experience, it has elevated his investigations into the realm of art.
I would argue that the range of human experience here is not just in the realm of art, but also in the realm of philosophy and transformative psychology as well, and that Sacks is a genuine role model for the work of this university because he begins with a respect for the empirical but is drawn by wonder and temperament to a higher plane, one which we also seek to occupy.
Richard Geldard, Ph.D. (Full-Time)
PhD, Dramatic Literature and Classics, Stanford University
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove, Program Dean for Transformational Psychology at the University of Philosphical Research, discusses the M.A. Program in Transformational Psychology and UPR’s unique approach to the subject.
Spring Quarter Begins April 28th Another successful quarter at UPR has ended and Spring has arrived! We welcome all of the new students joining us this upcoming quarter and encourage all of our students in their future studies and pursuits. We are excited to start another term with such a fantastic group of students [...]