Thursday, December 28, 2006

Siddhis and World Two

The "psychic powers" (siddhis) of yoga have been problematic, or even embarassing to some. What is the point of these apparently ego-focused abilities when the person is on the brink of release from ego? Chandogya Upanisad chapter 8 makes clear that the ability to obtain all desires lies in the atman-brahman identity, even as it equally shows that fulfilled desires below the level of that atman-brahman are temporary and ultimately undesirable. What is clear here is that only at the creative source are desires (kama-s) fulfilled, and that being at that creative source (recognizing that one is that source, that atman = brahman) is bliss. There is a push back toward beginnings in the Upanisads as in the Yoga Sutra, and those beginnings are realms of bliss. This is what I call "World Two," the state of fulfillment which is not only an "experience" but a stance. [Parenthetically, this is what Heidegger is about, always shifting from the purely mental and interior (experience, concepts) to an orientation, a stance or comportment towards Being.] Standing in ananda there is a sort of explosion of joy, akin to the moment of kensho in Zen Buddhism, which is expressed in exclamations of achievement of desired things--whatever happens to be desired. "Shivoham!" in the Sankara song is similar.

The state of bliss (brahmaloka = anandaloka) is a world, as van Buitenen suggests in his article "Ananda or all desires fulfilled." It is a positive reality in its own right, not just a relief from suffering. Siddhis and the various desired things spoken of in Chandogya 8 are alike in representing the spontaneous outpouring of World Two into this world ("World One"). In this way they are moments of culture, which I call "World Three." The joys of life are real only when they flow from World Two, from a stand in World Two. Pleasures confined to World One (Chandogya 8 shows that this comprises the waking, dream, and deep sleep states) are temporary and not really "enjoyable" (bhogya). "Magic," then, becomes an essential part of culture, which opens up a perspective on much of popular tantra.

Monday, December 25, 2006

How many purusas? As many as moments?

An important question in early samkhya is how many purusas there are. Upanisadic atman = brahman thinking might well suggest only one. Nevertheless, in order to account for the fact that we don't all share the same karmic burden or own the same psychophysical personality, samkhya concluded that there are as many purusas as there are sentient beings ("from Brahma to a blade of grass"). These purusas own different endowments but in their essential nature all amount to nothing more than consciousness. In the terms of Peter Pesic (in his book Seeing Double, MIT Press) the purusas are similar to elementary particles like electrons that are the same in all essential respects, and share "identicality." Some Buddhist thinkers (see Matthew Kapstein, Reason's Traces, Wisdom publishers) claim that there is a givenness of self-reference moment by moment that amounts to nothing but the momentary event of consciousness. In a sense there is something like purusa in each moment but a purusa that does not carry over to subsequent moments. Nevertheless there appears to be an "identicality" of consciousness in these moments that is very similar to one that applies between purusas in samkhya. An identity of "nature" between the consciousnesses within different moments seems implied in Buddhist concepts such as the Zen talk of "seeing eye to eye with the Buddha and patriarchs." The essence of liberation in samkhya is to see that the consciousness in all moments of experience is this completely selfless essence, and not an ahamkara (hence the recognition of "I am not" (naham) at Samkhya Karika 64). This is similar to Buddhist realization which also sublates the ahamkara (ego). The apparent difference is that samkhya ends with a permanent purusa and Buddhism with an endlessly repeated experience of momentary consciousness. That repetition is what I call culture, and I have argued that samkhya, rightly interpreted, implies the same thing (paper at AAR/DANAM, 2006).