Christian mysticism

Importantly, the experience of “thoughtless awareness” and its connection to higher states of consciousness is not exclusive to the East (although it is more systematically described in that culture than any other). There are isolated descriptions throughout the religious history of the West. For example in the anonymous Christian mystical text The Cloud of Unknowing, the writer encourages the development of a profound, introspective understanding of God that is accessible in the non-thinking state, “strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting” (Walsh, 1981).
St John of the Cross described the state as “silent music” and “the sound of solitude” (Herrera, 2004) while the poet Wordsworth (1849) suggested it in his ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood which is a meditation on the possibilities and limitations of consciousness: “Our noisy years seem moments in the being of the eternal Silence”.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Gyaneshwara

A famous teenage saint from Maharasthra, Gyaneshawara (1275–1296) described the ascent of the kundalini energy in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, called the Gyaneshawari, the awakening of this energy is associated with a unique state of consciousness which includes the experience of mental silence: “…the imagination subsides, activity becomes calm, and the functions of the body and mind become still…” (Noyce, 2006).

Zen

The ancient Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition also encompasses the idea of non-thought — elegantly and famously described in the Koan with the question: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” (Hoffman, 1975). The answer is, of course, that there is no sound and similarly, the state of meditation involves no mental activity. The aim of this kind of riddle is to challenge the mind into realizing the futility of rational thought, thus triggering a sudden leap of consciousness toward the trans-mind state, described in the Zen tradition as satori (Littleton, 1996).

Buddhism

In the Buddhist tradition, the Mahayana school’s The Awakening of Faith described several stages in the practice of Buddhist faith, the final one being “the stage of preventing vain thoughts.” In meditative posture the aspirant is instructed that “all kinds of ideas, as soon as thought of, must be put away, even the idea of banishing them must also be put away” (Richard, 1907).

Dr Ramesh Manocha

1.1.1 Gyaneshwara

A famous teenage saint from Maharasthra, Gyaneshawara (1275–1296) described the ascent of the kundalini energy in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, called the Gyaneshawari, the awakening of this energy is associated with a unique state of consciousness which includes the experience of mental silence: “…the imagination subsides, activity becomes calm, and the functions of the body and mind become still…”224

1.1.2 Zen

The ancient Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition also encompasses the idea of non-thought — elegantly and famously described in the Koan with the question: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”225. The answer is, of course, that there is no sound and similarly, the state of meditation involves no mental activity. The aim of this kind of riddle is to challenge the mind into realizing the futility of rational thought, thus triggering a sudden leap of consciousness toward the trans-mind state, described in the Zen tradition as satori226.

1.1.3 Buddhism

In the Buddhist tradition, the Mahayana school’s The Awakening of Faith described several stages in the practice of Buddhist faith, the final one being “the stage of preventing vain thoughts.” In meditative posture the aspirant is instructed that “all kinds of ideas, as soon as thought of, must be put away, even the idea of banishing them must also be put away.”227

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Trans-mind states are extensively described in ancient India, and are regarded as a characteristic aspect of the spiritually developed condition.

Mahabharata

In one of India’s most ancient texts, the Mahabhrata,(13.294.16) meditation is described as follows:

He does not hear…smell…taste…see…or experience touch…his mind ceases to imagine…He desires nothing, and like a log he does not think… quoted in Feuerstein, 2006. (p97).

Upanishads

The Upanishads are some thousands of years younger than the Mahabharata. Mascaro, an eminent translator of Indian spiritual texts, summarizes the Upanishadic ideas on meditation and consciousness as follows:

In the infinite struggle of man to know this world and the universe around him, and also to know the mind that allows him to think, he comes before the simple fact that life is above thought: when he sees a fruit he can think about the fruit but in the end he must eat it if he wants to know its taste: the pleasure and nourishment he may get from eating the fruit is not an act of thought (Mascaro, 1965, pp1–47).

Mascaro’s authoritative translations of the Upanishads further illustrate these points. In the Kena Upanishad it is stated:

He (God) comes to the thought of those who know him beyond thought, not to those who imagine he can be attained by thought: he is unknown to the learned and known to the simple (p51).

Further, in the Kaushitaki Upanishad it is stated “It is not thought which we should know: we should know the thinker” (p105).

And in the Katha Upanishad:

When the five senses and the mind are still, and reason itself rests in silence, then begins the path supreme. This calm steadiness of the senses is called yoga. Then one should become watchful, because yoga comes and goes (p55).

Patanjali

One of the most well known yogic treatise is Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms. Patanjali was a physician who attempted to synthesise the many disparate texts on yogic discipline (such as the Hathayogapradipika, cited above) into single coherent practical guide for those aspiring to experience higher consciousness and self realisation, it is stated:

By being aware of the silent void moments pervading the emptiness between thoughts, one can glimpse and expand the skill of thought subjugation which leads to transformation (Messenger, C).

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Despite the scientific establishment’s equivocal conclusions about the efficacy of meditation, positive perceptions are evident among the Western lay population because of the increasing popularity of the philosophy, metaphysics and folklore associated with the ancient and traditional Indian ideas of meditation. So it is important to develop an understanding of meditation, in the words of Taylor (2005) in the context of its:

“…particular spiritual tradition, situated in a specific historical time period, or codified in a specific text according to the philosophy of some particular individual.”

While the biomedical Cartesian worldview that developed in the West from the mid-19th century weakened the connection between health and spirituality, this did not occur in India. There strong associations between health and spirituality were made and utilised to promote better physical wellbeing and quality of life. Typical of this health philosophy was the practice of yoga, which combined spiritual teachings with more mundane health factors such as lifestyle, diet, physical exercise and positive psychology in order to achieve its ultimate aim, the development of consciousness (this will be explained at greater length below). Similarly, the ancient and still widely used Ayurveda health epistemology was used to cure illness and enhance wellbeing by combining spiritual practices such as meditation, mantras and prayer with lifestyle measures such as exercise, diet and massage. Proponents of this epistemology also advocated the use of an extensive herbal pharmacopoeia, while its diagnostic system was based on psychological predisposition and personality type (Chopra Et al., 2002). In fact the followers of Ayurveda proposed a perspective of the human corpus in which the mind was not contained within the confines of the brain, as in Western perceptions. Instead, it was seen to be closely intertwined with the physical body, thus forming a body-mind whole in which physical health status was seen to be a direct reflection of consciousness and vice versa.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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The aphorisms of Patanjali on the Yoga Sutras are contained in four chapters and are nearly two hundred in number. The author of the aphorisms is said to be the same Patanjali who wrote the famous commentary on Panini’s aphorisms, under the name of the Mahabhasya or ‘The Great Commentary’. Another work on Medicine is also attributed to him. He was not only a great grammarian and a great philosopher, but a great physician. He prescribed for the body, mind and spirit. The age of Patanjali is now generally fixed at three centuries before Christ.

Patanjali is credited with formalising the spiritual science of India. His writings describe a multi faceted discipline involving physical exercise (Hatha yoga), breath control to arrest thought (Raja yoga), meditation (Dyana yoga) which is achieved after the mind is silenced, pure love of the divine (Bhakti yoga), ethical behaviour (Karma yoga) as well as intellectual study, various cleansing practices, etc., etc.

His system was designed to prepare the aspirant by purifying, balancing and strengthening the energy plexuses and channels that exist as a subtle mechanism in the body. It is this subtle body, said Patanjali, that is the mechanism by which self realisation occurs.

Patanjali’s yoga system is the basis of all yoga systems that are popularly known today. Interestingly, Patanjali did not intend the disciplines to be used separately to the exclusion of others. Rather, he emphasised the need for integrated use of the various techniques according to the needs of the individual, in order to achieve harmony in the body, mind and soul. Nor did he recommend the use of the paradoxical, and now fashionable, so- called ‘sexual yogas’, nor the gaining of ‘siddhis’ (occult powers such as levitation, astral travel, ESP etc). Indeed, Patanjali warned against them as both damaging to the subtle mechanism as well as hazardous to the seeker’s ascent as a whole.

Excerpt from A Seeker’s Journey by Greg Turek. If you would like a copy of the book, Greg would be happy to send you a PDF version. He can be contacted here.

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The conceptualisation of meditation as involving mental silence is virtually absent in Western scientific discussion. Why has this important notion been ignored? How did contemporary, popular notions of meditation become almost diametrically opposed to the ancient Indian ideas which form their source? Some explanations are examined below.

When René Descartes made the philosophical statement “cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) in his Principles of Philosophy he laid down a foundation element of Western philosophy. The “cogito ergo sum argument” essentially states that “I am thinking therefore I exist”. The metaphysical implications of Descartes’ phrase, which equate thinking activity with self identity contrast sharply with the Eastern metaphysical idea that existential reality can be perceived only when one is not thinking, which might be stated in Latin as “sum cogito ergo” — I am, therefore I think!

The influence of Descartes’ “cogito” on Western thought is widely acknowledged and cannot be overstated. It offers some explanation as to why the idea of mental silence has failed to find currency in the Western scientific literature on meditation. For example, Wright (2001), in an attempt to dispel myths and misconceptions about meditation (as he, a Western scientist, sees it) completely contradicts the Indian tradition when he states:

When we close our eyes to meditate our mind does not go completely blank, void of thoughts at one with the universe, because just as hearts are meant to beat and lungs to breath, brains are meant to think and will never be completely devoid of thought, perhaps until they are dead.

Wright’s comments in many ways are a reflection of Descartes’ cogito argument. It suggests that Western scholars having been brought up in the milieu of a Western philosophy built on the notion of “I think therefore I am”, might have difficulty acknowledging the possibility that a state of consciousness which is devoid of thought might be possible.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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While the strong metaphysical linkage between Eastern religiosity, its psycho-spiritual practices, and health may offer important new perspectives on the relationship between religiosity and health, there are a number of practical difficulties associated with studying the epidemiology of non-Western forms of spirituality. These include:

  • differing criteria of religiosity
  • new confounding variables relating to language, culture, ethnicity, diet and environment
  • an absence of validated and reliable measures
  • accurate data regarding the background population may be unavailable.

Given these considerable limitations, the study of a Western sub-population that has adopted a well-defined aspect of Eastern religiosity may be particularly useful as it allows comparison with well-developed, validated databases and commentary while avoiding a number of the confounders mentioned above. Studies such as this may provide important conceptual bridges by which researchers can extend their understandings of the relationship between religiosity and health in non-Western groups using a common set of empirical scientific tools.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Within the yoga tradition, meditation is defined as an experiential state of awareness specifically involving control over all aspects of mental activity. Feuerstein (2006) explains that “the initial purpose of meditation is to intercept the flux of ordinary mental activity.” He translates Patanjali’s explanation from the Yoga Sutras (aphorism 1.2) as follows: “Yoga is the control of the fluctuations of the mind” (p98).

In this paradigm the highly developed meditator is not only less stressed and more relaxed but also experiences beneficial effects on health and psyche, having activated a previously latent potential for positive psychology and optimized wellbeing.

The mental complexities with which one gradually becomes encumbered as one progresses through life can be loosely termed as “mind” and they increase in strength as one becomes more involved in the mundane. Yogic systems in fact identify the mind as not only the source of “illusion” that prevents perception of reality, but also as the ultimate source of disease. According to the yogic tradition the true aim of life is to resolve these complexities and therefore progress toward a more profound understanding of one’s self. Feuerstein translates the passage of the Yoga Bhishya (1.1) in which the five fundamental behaviour patterns of the mind are described as follows:

  1. mudha – dullness;
  2. kshipta – restlessness;
  3. vikshipta – being intermittently distracted;
  4. ekagra – being focused
  5. niruddha – a state of control.

The order in which these states are cited is important; indicating a hierarchy in which the controlled mind is the most preferable. The Guru is traditionally seen as someone who, having mastered his own mind and soul, sets out to help others do the same.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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This article is about the purpose of meditation as it may be understood from the point of view of western rationality. This isn’t intended as a light reading introduction to meditation but as an exploration of some of the understandings and assumptions underlying this prevailing rational perspective, with a view to making the deeper function of meditation philosophically comprehensible in modern western terms.

In any inquiry we have to take a close look at some of the terms and concepts involved and in this case experience, truth, reality, fact, knowledge, belief, subjectivity, objectivity, consciousness and intelligence are explored.

Concepts and language

It seems that direct experience is the root of knowledge and conceptualization is the tool we use for the exploration and communication thereof. Concepts are the abstract mental labels of association that we use to establish and manipulate links between experiences both of a direct sensory and a more abstract indirect form. These labels are elements of and are inextricable from language. So the whole field of conception is a relative, collectively shared one, as is language itself, though all operations of interpretation and manipulation are carried out in individual minds. Direct experience is the root or touch-stone of conceptual systems, in so far as the sense of validity which we constantly use to measure veracity at all stages of abstraction is derived from concepts formed at the most immediate proximity to direct experience, e.g. Chair, table, person, and house stretched into areas such as home, livelihood or economy. This is obvious enough but not always so obvious is that the entire field of conceptualization is equally abstract. In the same way that an architect’s blueprints are abstract no matter how accurately or inaccurately they portray ‘reality’. In other words no matter how gross or subtle the subject matter, ‘reality’ is always dimensionally out of reach of the label. An analogy of this may be that of a photograph being a two dimensional view of three dimensional reality, always portraying an image from a particular viewpoint and however accurate a representation it may be from that viewpoint, perspective is frozen in context and other perspectives are not apparent.

Language as a collectively developed map of the conceptual world is very informative and full of clues about its own parameters, boundaries and limitations when viewed with an understanding of its relative nature. For example interpreted from this perspective, the term ‘absolute’ means ‘not relative’ as absolute and relative are simply conceptual opposites. This also applies to ‘finite’ and ‘infinite’, so infinite seen like this means something like ‘not subject to measurement of any kind conceptually’, rather than an unending linear progression towards some unfathomable boundary, which only exists within a pre-constructed conceptual space. Infinity therefore means ‘unmeasured’ and ‘eternity’ means ‘unmeasured in time’.

Knowledge, reason and fact

The word ‘reason’ in its main modern western meaning has to do with the application of logic to events to establish ‘truths’ or ‘facts’. In science this is reinforced by the use of tight experimental protocols to produce results as free as possible from ambiguity and verifiable by peer review. Philosophically this approach is described as being ‘objective’ in character because it attempts to establish theory and understanding of principles that, as closely as possible, reflect an ‘actuality’ or ‘reality’ that exists independently of any particular observer. The well known arch-enemy of ‘objectivity’ is of course ‘subjectivity’ i.e. relying on or being over-influenced by one’s own personal view or interpretation of events.

It seems that our personal view of reality is constantly being checked in our flow of consciousness against our sense of collective agreement about it; e.g. I may never have been to Australia but I am certain beyond doubt that it exists because of my contact with many people who have been there. So while much of my view of reality is relatively directly supported by direct experience there is a hierarchy of inferred truth constructed within my extended view, derived from shared collective experience and stored conceptually. This applies to all areas of abstract ‘knowledge’. What this implies is that what we mean by ‘objective’ is really collective agreement on the interpretation of experience, for example we can easily agree on a particular item being a chair or table or house or whatever because these are so much part of our common experience that we forget that the particular concept or mental label was originally learned and is an agreed abstraction constantly reinforced by direct experience. However the concept remains abstract and the apparent inseparability of the thing and its label is an illusion of perception. The concept is acquired and shared through language. Going a little further, the ideas of ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ are themselves based on the a-priori perception that there is a separation between viewers and viewed, while in actuality the entire experience exists within the perception of the viewer. So in actuality there is no separate external world except within the cognitive distinction of the viewer. This implies that in fact only subjective experience exists. But to follow this reasoning through, as language is only a relative construct, it means that neither subject nor object exist as such – they are a perceptual illusion expressed as concepts, produced by that evolved tool which we use to manipulate our environment, conceptual thought.

A core component of this instrument of conceptual thought is the sense of truth or validity which we constantly apply to abstract information. We don’t do this consciously with everyday things because the sense of ‘reality’ or ‘existence’ of direct experience is an intrinsic quality of it and habitual usage carries this over to the associated primary concepts. In abstract thought this ‘checking for validity’ or discrimination of truthfulness is actively directed into all mental constructs, to some degree, like a surveyor checking the soundness of building work in progress and is rooted in the perceived validity of primary concepts. Incidentally this applies to mathematics as well as all other conceptual fields of reference.

The practical significance of all this is that ‘objectivity’ is really collective agreement on the truth of a conceptual interpretation of an experience or event.

Interestingly there is always some degree of probability, greater or lesser, factored into evaluation of a truth. Without that there could only be ignorance or certainty, no work in progress. Further experience may reinforce or reduce the degree of certainty. Knowledge is the concept used to indicate a high degree of certainty about the parts and totality of this body of information, which must necessarily remain open and flexible to accommodate new input.

Science, values and evolution

Based on the above it could be suggested that the mental world we inhabit is mainly an abstract one, being a conceptual environment constructed and amended in a dynamically evolving way, through the medium of language. The idea of evolution used here is rooted in, and not essentially dissimilar to the biological notion; locally developed world views interact with others through competition and absorption to generate variations, and a degree of ‘survival of the fittest’ processing is also at work here, whereby different qualities and attributes may suit different cultures at different times, and the more effective predominate. Of course the process is much more rapid than in the biological sphere and has no direct genetic consequences though it certainly does have effects on the biological environment. It might be thought of as evolution of software as distinct from biological hardware. Language is the medium of this process and as such it is a collective one, as discussed earlier. However the digestion and transformation of ideas takes place in the individual mind.

The fabric or pattern of these world views, woven through individual and collective experience and validation, operates in different areas of our understanding. For example, one area might be considered to include human relationship, family, social mores etc. extending to the more metaphysical considerations of human aspiration expressed in philosophy and religion, i.e. the world of values.

While another is the area of investigation of the workings of the physical world; there are no doubt others that could be defined but these are the relevant areas for the purposes of this discussion. These two areas develop to some degree independently but do influence each other because they form part of each others’ environment, e.g. the application of scientific knowledge through technologies greatly affects the physical environment in which society operates and the practical aspects of global social interaction. Conversely, prevailing mores and values influence to some degree the area and application of scientific exploration. Extending the comparison with biological evolution one can observe that over relatively long periods of time nature tends to conserve and refine the most useful aspects of a culture while not necessarily eliminating less useful ones completely. This happens through the interaction of individual and collective evaluation discussed. Societies/cultures gather a cumulative heritage of experience and adaptation which express the unconscious assumptions of its members shared through language. Which brings us to the idea of ‘belief’or what we ‘consider to be true’.

Interestingly, belief seems to mean different things when in the context of science or social values. In science belief is ideally based on tried and tested knowledge. One should only believe what has been tried, tested and evaluated as objectively true according to the prevailing collectively approved scientific protocols. With independent individual thought and exploration highly valued subject to peer review. Although it may be worth noting that values appreciated within the discipline of science participate as part of our collective value system and are subject to similar pressures of value, belief, development and evolution. This leaves the problem that science can only explore a small fraction of reality so if one were fully committed to exercise of objectivity one couldn’t believe anything that had not been rigorously tested, leaving most of one’s interpretation of reality unbelievable. Plainly many presumptions precede the exploration. On the other hand where social values are concerned, beliefs are more like socially acquired attitudes communicated and absorbed, as it were, osmotically. These are not weighed on a rational scale per se but on a scale of social importance gathered through generations of collective experience. This is also based on a principle of ‘tried and tested’ but the frame of reference for such knowledge is collectively evolved of morality or cohesive social behavior rather than directly reasoned. Does one regard the value of life as a high priority? If one does, this is a belief but not based on the same grounding as believing that the earth revolves round the sun although in practice both are received knowledge for most people rather than directly discriminated.

It could be considered that what we refer to as ‘beliefs’ in both areas, science and social values, are presumptions, albeit in different frames of reference, upon which other enquiry may be based but which themselves may not be subject to close scrutiny unless there is pressure for re-evaluation that draws attention to them which can and does result in paradigm shifts in either area.

Truth

While knowledge and understanding socially and scientifically proceed on a collective basis, individual insight provides the focal point of change/progress in both areas. e.g. in the sciences we recognize people like Pythagoras, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein who have contributed major refinements and adjustments to the collective understanding of physical reality. On the social side we have innumerable figures who have enriched the world of social and ethical realities and the value systems which underpin world cultures, such as Socrates, Plato, Buddha, Jesus, Confucius, Mohammed, Abraham and in more recent times Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela and in all countless others.

It may be considered that the significance of these individuals lay in the strength of their appeal to deep aspirational desires in the collective attention in their cultures at their time and they, as individuals, acted as focal points in the resolution of these. This can be regarded as part of the evolutionary development of society and culture in the areas of ethics and values. These areas include what we categorize as religion, philosophy and politics, although these don’t really exist separately and are interwoven in the fabric of society.

When we talk about truth in these areas really we are talking about the truth of values which have evolved in the collective attention of humanity. Such a quality of truth plainly is not amenable to the criteria which are used in exploring the ‘objective’ world. The notion of ‘objective reality’ can only be applied to the physical world as no concept can be regarded as existing physically; so values and mores, which don’t have physical co-relates can’t be objectively investigated, though they do result from the same essential mental processes of evaluation as the physical sciences, i.e. individual discrimination reflected in collectively accepted and evolving paradigms.

Individual insight and collective knowledge

From observations thus far you will see an recognition of the procedure of interplay of knowledge between individual and society. The individual mind is identified as the place where the digestion and transformation of knowledge takes place through what we call insight. Insight is an ability to recognize a deeper, more significant pattern or patterns of truth emerging from consideration of other patterns of knowledge, experience and theory.

In a way the individual doesn’t exist separately from the society or mental environment he shares with others. His entire conceptual world view from the furniture he uses to the abstract ideas he has from the grossest to the most subtle is shared with the world he inhabits, but with his own unique experiential perspective. The point at which all change and transformation takes place is in the individual consciousness through this phenomenon of insight. This process of transformation of knowledge through insight informs the collective body of society and contributes to its pool of knowledge, with the area of value knowledge forming the context for other kinds.

Values what are they and do they matter?

The word ‘value’ has old trading connotations and implies the relative importance we attach to things – we place greatest value on those things we regard as most important. In human affairs the term is used in a similar way in reference to qualities or attributes a society regards as important.

Values of specific kinds develop and are expressed in different societies in different ways; they evolve within the culture of the society as in integral part of its fabric, a process touched on earlier. This evolution also follows the pattern of individual/collective interaction, with individual discrimination at the root of insight driving the process and the collective body of society selecting and expressing (or suppressing) this insight. So values are to do with the reciprocal relations between individual and society, being referred to generally as virtues in the case of the individual and values in the case of society. For example, honesty, strength of character, tolerance, courage may be regarded as desirable virtues in an individual while justice, human rights, social inclusiveness are examples of social values. Plainly these are two sides of the same coin; individual virtues reflect social values.

These values are developed and expressed over long periods of time as a collective body of knowledge and there is a high degree of inertia associated with them. In other words the collective side of the relationship weighs heavily against the individual’s side. This seems reasonable as the values have the function of providing protection and nourishment to the collective body, so for the most part the individual’s contribution is crucial but relatively small.

In modern times the great population and cultural shifts generated by major wars, the advent of relatively cheap and rapid world travel, and global communications, have encouraged cultural contact and exchange to a much greater degree than ever known hitherto. On one hand this has encouraged people to expand their world views and tolerance of others; on the other it has led to some insecurity and conflict of views. In the first case those of an enquiring nature who perhaps intuitively trust the underlying truth of values as inherent in human nature are prepared to open their minds to new viewpoints and gain improved understanding and value perspective; while in the other, distrust in the integrity of human nature and the challenge of new perspectives to their belief system, often makes them identify even more closely with their own historical, cultural philosophical and religious background.

Evolution, science, creationism and God

The word God is a concept. All concepts are relative and all conceptual meaning is relative. So there can be no conceptual meaning to the word ‘God’ that isn’t relative and charged with associations. The problem with the word is that people have their own particular associations with it. Now if I use the word ‘chair’ everyone who can speak the same language as me knows what I mean, at least as a particular category of item. The proximity of the concept to its function helps, so although the concept, like all concepts is abstract, its meaning is pretty unambiguous. However the concept ‘God’ is loaded with divergent associations with the consequence that people often have quite different interpretations of the same word. Linguistically the word is associated with unity and good and in linguistic origin probably meant something along the lines of the ‘Power of good’. Plainly the concept is one that has developed over time and there is plenty of scope for inquiry into its’ historical roots. For the purposes of this discussion there are particular points to observe. In modern times there is a tendency for people to find themselves engaged in debate, directly or implicitly about the subject of the existence or non-existence of God, without having any clear idea of the subject they are dealing with, whichever side of a fence they may regard themselves as standing on. This debate seems to take place largely in an intellectually barren terrain where the main, or at least loudest, protagonists assert their unassailable rightness without appearing to inspect their own assumptions too closely. So the argument degenerates to that of the existence or otherwise of an anthropomorphically conceived God. As far as this level of the debate is concerned my own view is that the root of the problem here is the anthropomorphism, whereby God is conceived of as being a mystical entity, something akin to a human being (man is made in God’s image and likeness) who exists somehow separately from the rest of the universe, who created and controls the world. As I see it this is the equivalent of ‘casting God in man’s image and likeness’ or a subtle kind of idolatry, as it were and I can understand why many would find this notion difficult to swallow. Essentially this describes the idea of God under discussion when we talk of ‘belief’ in God or ‘dis-belief’. Debate engaged at this level tends to produce a polarization of those who regard themselves as ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’ or ‘atheists’.

Current debates about creationism vs. evolution science are relatively superficial as they take place in this distorted arena characterized by mutual suspicion and loathing on the part of the protagonists. The introduction of recently evolved value paradigms over the last couple of centuries under the auspices of ‘the Enlightenment’, arising as they did in a background of antipathy to prevailing religious orthodoxy, set the scene to some degree for a continuing ideological conflict of views. This still finds expression currently in the tension between science and religion, and is exemplified in the arguments between evolution and creationism.

Creationism is really an aspect of fundamentalism and is an intellectually narrow and regressive reaction to a perceived threat to social morality and a world view in which belief in an anthropomorphically conceived God is considered essential and central to the sustaining of human/social values, knowledge of right and wrong, morality etc. To the fundamentalist this threat seems implicit not only in evolution theory but also in the secular scientific outlook as a whole and the growing secularization and materialism of Western style social values. This applies to all current religious fundamentalisms of different religions.

Paradoxically, the rationalist reaction to this tends to reinforce the creationist position and its’ determination to resist the ‘demon’ of atheism. An actively atheistic view of the universe, reinforced ultimately by historic the abuses of religion, engages in battle on territory chosen by the enemy. Ultimately this is a battle between values occupying different conceptual paradigms that can achieve nothing. The value of secular objective rationality versus the value of moral integrity, rather than the value of truth.

Another view, more prevalent in the East, is that God represents the unfathomable, inconceivable, immeasurable, timeless, absolute reality that underlies our world of concepts. Many people who conceive of God through this approach have as much difficulty with an anthropomorphic view of God as do atheists, while at the same time finding a perspective on life much more satisfying than can be provided by reductionist cause and effect analysis such as that provided by science or objective philosophies. Again such an approach would appear to suffer from the contradiction inherent in the attempt to conceive of the inconceivable, but in practice this approach is supported by the practice of meditation designed to bring the conscious attention back to a state of thoughtless awareness, in which the subject-object illusion is dissolved. Such practice provides nourishment to the whole psyche by re-establishing the roots of self-identity rather than just satisfying the intellect.

Meditation

It will be apparent I haven’t actually said a lot about the practice of meditation itself. There are many techniques described as being meditation. In practice most of these techniques provide access to or control of certain aspects the psyche usually out of conscious reach, and may result in a sense of greater relaxation or greater self-control. But there is some evidence to indicate that they are not by any means all the same, and that the kinds of effect can vary greatly. So care has to be advised in adopting a practice of meditation, that its origins are sound in order that it does bring about self-awakening and not self-hypnosis or some other result.. This topic will be approached elsewhere by me and other contributors.

M. Callaghan

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Traditional Siddha medicine, which is prevalent mostly in Tamil Nadu (southeastern India), is popular among Tamil-speaking people even outside of this region. Its literature is entirely in Tamil, one of the oldest Indian languages. Unfortunately, however, no systematic attempt has been made, so far, either by Tamil savants or by Siddha medical practitioners, to render with critical evaluation even the major texts into English, the two main reasons being the enigmatic nature of the texts and the … article available here

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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