Last time we discussed van der Leeuw’s description of his experience of the Absolute. This time we consider I. K. Taimni’s thoughts. Then I grouse about the current crop of intellectuals…
Contents for The Yogic View of Consciousness:
|Intro||Ch 1||Ch 2||Ch 3||Ch 4||Ch 5||Ch 6||Ch7||Ch 8|
|Ch 9||Ch 10||Ch 11||Ch 12||Ch 13||Ch 14||Ch 15||Ch 16||Ch 17|
|Ch 18||Ch 19||Ch 20||Ch 21||Ch 22||Ch 23||Ch 24||Ch 25||Ch 26|
|Ch 27||Ch 28||Ch 29||Ch 30||Ch 31||Ch 32||Ch 33|
Taimni’s Description of the Absolute
The ideas we consider are from Man, God, and the Universe (MGU, from here out). Taimni’s approach was to interpret familiar facts of our experience as metaphors of the Absolute.
The first two chapters of MGU are dedicated to expounding the Absolute. The book begins:
“The nature of the Absolute is the most enigmatic though fascinating problem of philosophy and religion and although the problem is bound to remain always unsolved by philosophy, it will continue to engage the attention of philosophers for all time to come.”
Note he states that the Absolute is a problem for philosophy and religion, not science or occultism. This is keeping with van der Leeuw’s four classes of knowledge where mysticism and philosophy are similar in their concern with the Absolute, but science and occultism are means to study and interact with the relative (see here, Chapter 3).
As is customary, He points out the pitfalls and limits of trying to understand the Absolute:
“It is unknowable and yet the highest object of realization, unthinkable and yet the most profound object of philosophical enquiry.”
“Before we begin to clarify our ideas about the Absolute we must remind ourselves of the tremendous limitations under which we are undertaking this difficult but fascinating task. We are trying to understand through the instrumentality of the intellect a Reality which is not only beyond the range of the intellect but beyond the range of Buddhi and Atma and even beyond the range of the experiences of those high Adepts who can dive even deeper into the recesses of their own consciousness. We are trying to peer into a mystery which is called the Ever-Darkness and the Unknowable and can only hope that a faint glimmer of light from the deeper recesses of our being will be able to filter down into our minds…”
To get us started, Taimni provides a physical example as a metaphor. He talks about how a prism breaks white light into its constituent colors. This is meant to convey how the One (the white light) contains the Many (the rainbow of colors) in a homogeneous and integrated form. This is a variant of van der Leeuw’s idea that the Absolute is the Relative, seen but from a perspective. To help us understand how alien the experience of Kaivalya is, he says:
“If there is an entity who has lived only on the side of colours and has never been to the other side, he cannot have the slightest idea of what white light is like from his experience of different colours although they are all derived from white light.”
A strained metaphor, no doubt, but it conveys the general point [and I used it in What is Science? see here and scroll down to the image that looks like the Dark Side of the Moon]. One confined only to the relative world-image has no basis to know the Absolute exists and that it is the source of relative existence.
The Static Absolute
He breaks his discussion of the Absolute into “static” and “dynamic” aspects. Chapter 1 of MGU is dedicated to the “static” aspect. He begins pointing out that the Absolute has no characteristics, no relative relationships of any kind.
To do this, he makes analogy to zero and infinity. We are acquainted with both math objects. Zero and infinity share the feature that we can assign no relative attributes to them. This assertion is obvious in the case of infinity, but less so with zero.
We incorporate zero into the number line, generating the illusion it is just another number. But it is not a number. Having zero there creates all kinds of problems in math, the least of which when we need to divide by it. It is a philosophical question actually: the issue of something and nothing. I’ll simply assert now, and maybe discuss in some future post, that zero is not a quantity, and nothingness is not a quality. The multifarious roles zero plays in math gives us insight into the lack of relationship between the Absolute and the Relative.
Taimni’s discussion is particularly interesting because here a native Hindu speaks about a Hindu concept—zero—in a manner foreign to Western ideas, but in terms that reflect the origin of these concepts in Hindu philosophy:
“Zero and infinity appear to be polar opposites. If we go on increasing the quantity of anything we approach the limit of infinity but never seem to reach it. If we go on decreasing the quantity we approach the limit of zero but again never seem to reach it. Between these extreme and unattainable limits are contained all possible magnitudes of the thing we can imagine.”
This statement taken by itself is ambiguous to people versed in modern math. In the context of the book, he is referring to the calculus concepts of integration for the limit to infinity and differentiation for the limit to zero. He links the calculus notions to geometry:
“The zero and infinity will thus be seen to be analogues of the point and space in geometry. Now, a wonderful thing about the ideal point and boundless space is that they appear to be the same ultimately and indistinguishable. If we imagine a point expanding ad infinitum it will merge ultimately into infinite, boundless space and then appear mysteriously again out of nowhere at its original position and in its infinitesimal form.”
This sounds a lot like Nicholas of Cusa:
“The Absolute Maximum, with which the Minimum coincides, is understood incomprehensibly.”
We get into weird continuum stuff here. For example, how many points make up the smallest infinitesimal area or volume you can imagine? What is the difference in the number of points contained in an infinitesimal volume, a volume of one cubic meter, and an infinite volume? This kind of stuff did not go well with Cantor’s mental health. Leibniz was all like “screw it, it’s a non-problem”. The Hindus, along with Nicholas, considered these “features” instead of “bugs”.
Let’s see how Taimni uses these “features”:
“An extraordinary property of zero is that it can contain within itself a quantity of any magnitude provided that quantity is balanced by another quantity which is equal and opposite in sign…. the zero has the potentiality of containing within itself an infinite number of magnitudes from the smallest to the largest, all perfectly balanced, by each quantity being neutralized by an equal and opposite. “
“The significance of these extraordinary properties of zero can throw some light on the concept of the Absolute. They show mathematically how the existence of an Ultimate Reality, with the possibility of containing an infinite number of potential systems in any number and of any magnitude, is possible provided they are such that each separate item is balanced by its equal and opposite.”
And bingo, this is exactly how I used Taimni’s idea of the Absolute in Part 10 of What is Science?
“The presence in an integrated form in the Unmanifest of all equal and opposite principles in a potential state naturally finds expression in the manifested universe in opposites called dvandvis or pairs of opposites…”
“…they are seen everywhere and sometimes in a very striking form if we look at life intelligently and enquiringly. The active and passive functions of volition and cognition, involution and evolution, spirit and matter, subject and object, descent and ascent, positive and negative electricity.”
Male and female, night and day, wave and particle, and so on…
He then introduces the consequence of the balancing of opposite forces:
“A state in which all possible principles, forces, etc. exist in perfect balance and equilibrium would not only be a void as shown above but would also be a state of perfect stability. According to modern conceptions of Science if such a state of equilibrium is disturbed in any way the disturbance will be followed by such changes and adjustments as tend to neutralize the disturbance and tend to restore the original stable equilibrium.”
From here he discusses Le Chatelier’s principle from chemistry, the immune system as an example of homeostasis in biology, Newton’s 3rd law of motion (action = reaction), and the Law of Karma.
Thus we see the Hindu concept of zero. Zero does not mean nothing in the Hindu framework. It means everything combined in perfect balance. This reinforces the point I made in What is Science? that the origin of the concept of zero in Hindu thought is ill-understood in the West. It is one of the ways they characterized the Absolute.
To round out the story, I remind the Reader that one of the main points of my book Experience was to explicate the Hindu concept of infinity, which they take to mean “does not exist”. Repeating what I said there, because it has relevance here: To a Westerner, zero means “nothing” and infinity means “nk = nk-1 + 1”. To a Hindu, zero means “everything in perfect balance” and infinity means “illusion, mirage, does not exist”.
Taimni’s Description of the Cosmic Rhythm
In Chapter two of MGU, Taimni discusses the “Cosmic Rhythm”, which constitutes the dynamism of the Absolute. The idea sounds self-contradictory on its face. Buy, hey, were talking about the continuum here, so that is no reason to stop us from proceeding.
He repeats the idea of the Absolute as “the perfect neutralization of opposites and harmonious integration of principles and states” and repeats the correspondence: zero is to infinity as a point is to unbounded space.
He then gets to his main point (deadpan drum beat; audience groans):
“…there must exist eternally an ideal Point in the unmanifest state of Reality from which all kinds of manifestation start.”
This point is intimately related to the bindu, but to elaborate here puts us ahead of ourselves.
“If such a centre exists it can exist only if it is balanced by its exact opposite. Now, what is the exact opposite of a point which can neutralize or perfectly balance the Point and thus serve to maintain the perfectly undifferentiated state of the Ultimate Reality? Obviously, boundless, infinite, empty Space.”
Yes, obviously. This is what I enjoy about Taimni: he simply asserts the most abstract things. It would be the height of absurdity, but for the context. He continues…
“Both eternal Ultimate Space and eternal Ultimate Point are recognized in Occultism and Hinduism. The eternal Ultimate Space which is referred to as the ‘container’ or ‘ vesture ‘ of the Ultimate Reality is called Mahakasa… The eternal Point which serves as a centre round which manifestation takes place is called a Mahabindu.”
We come back to Mahabindu in a later post because it is the source of the bindu in your mind and mine. The idea to focus on now is that a point is the decreasing limit of unbounded space, and unbounded space is the increasing limit of a point. As we see, Hindus are also intrigued by, and have their own unique take on, the continuum.
Together, these four elements – the point, zero, unbounded space, and infinity – are the ingredients of Taimni’s “static view” of the Absolute.
He then introduces the “dynamic” aspect by bringing in the idea of an oscillating pendulum. As a pendulum oscillates back and forth, so too does the Absolute oscillate back and forth in an eternal rhythm from the point to unbounded space, and back again. But it is not an external reality that is doing the oscillating, it is consciousness:
“…the Ultimate Reality is conceived as an oscillation of consciousness in which it alternately expands to an unbounded sphere of infinite radius and then contracts to an ideal point”
And hence he rationalizes van der Leeuw’s idea of the Rhythm of Creation, whereby the Absolute experiences itself as the Relative, which in turn strives to experience itself as the Absolute.
The idea here is probably foreign to people not familiar with math, but not so much to those who know some modern math and science. While it sounds similar to the Big Bang/Big Crunch idea, it’s not that. What he is saying is that if we get big enough, then we eventually become infinitesimally small. If we become small enough, we are infinitely big. Again, more like Nicholas of Cusa’s ideas.
To summarize: The Absolute appears to us as zero from our relative standpoint. But it is not “nothing”. It has everything within it, neutralized in a perfect balance. The Absolute projects itself via a point, which expands to infinity, and in doing so again becomes a point.
If we are willing to entertain these queer ideas, then the obvious question is: if it is in such a state of perfect balance, then how does it go out of balance?
Hard question. Short answer: I don’t know. If I did know, I wouldn’t be here typing this, I imagine. However, we will discuss some of the ideas in upcoming posts when we begin to talk about the cave of consciousness. For the moment, let’s stay focused on the idea of the Absolute.
Yes, of course. Any rational person would concede it sounds like so much nonsense. Therefore I am going to try to explain why it is not.
Some Comments on Taimni
I offer a defense of Taimni’s ideas because, relative to the Western understanding of math, his ideas appear so simple as to be absurd. But relative to understanding yoga, for which the West is still foggy, his ideas are important and useful.
First, van der Leeuw described his actual experience of the Absolute. Taimni makes no claim to have experienced the Absolute. Nonetheless, it is clear from his writings Taimni practiced yoga. Instead of first-hand experience, Taimni sought to intellectually express the Absolute, knowing that the task could at best be little more than a series of metaphors.
If any of my Readers think I know anything about yoga, I must point out that 80% – 90% of what I know about yoga and Hinduism, I have learned from studying Taimni. He has been a tremendous pioneer in the attempt to make yoga and Hinduism accessible to Western people. Newton made a comment about standing on the shoulder of giants. Taimni is one of the giants whose shoulder I try to stand on. Therefore, I have decided it is worth the effort to try to decode what this man was saying, even if it sounds silly on the face of it.
Certainly, given the tremendous sophistication in Western mathematics, the above ideas sound naive. To someone sophisticated in Western math, but not sophisticated in Eastern thought and methods, the above is worse than “numerology” (i.e. the playing around with combinations of numbers and trying to extract some type of meaning from it).
The Big Bang Theory Kids
This is a weird phenomenon to address. Today there are thousands of Big Bang Theory Kids (this in reference to the TV show) who possess sophisticated understanding of modern math and its applications in science. On the other hand, this generation of intellectuals is so tangled up in the fine details that it is a classic case of “not seeing the forest for the trees”. I used the derogatory term “philosophical pygmies” at one point. The pygmy stature is due, at least in part, to the BBT Kids being the confused children of the divorced parents of science and philosophy here in the West (the divorce was discussed in Part 3).
I myself am one of the BBT Kids. Although not as knowledgeable as many, I’ve took a group theory course, know a little of the math of quantum mechanics, understand the Lorenz transform, and after reading Hermann Wyle, understand why General Relativity is more of a mystery than even quantum mechanics. Hell, I even made up my own math theory of cell injury. To cement my BBT Kid credentials: I love Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s comics from the 1960s, collect comic book art and statues, and get just as thrilled as anyone else when Stan Lee makes his cameo appearances in the Marvel movies.
So, what is the difference between me and the thousands of my peers who would think the topics I discuss here are absurd? Two things I think. First, I love to study history and philosophy, along with science. Second, I have relatively more experience with altered states of consciousness, and have been driven to try to understand them.
First the philosophy side: Unlike Herman Wyle, who could go between Hilbert and Hume, Kant and Cantor, or Poincare and Plato in a hair’s breath, the BBT kids can go between Stan Lee and Richard Feynman or Dan Dennet and Stephen Hawking (ugh, can’t even do alliteration with them) in a hair’s breath. The latter is a pretty deadly combination as an intellectual anesthetic, whereas Wyle was all hopped up on intellectual stimulants.
Given the absurdity to which modern Western philosophy descended in the 20th century, I defend the “shut up and calculate” mentality as strongly as anybody. I get, to the extent I am able, the Bohr-Einstein debates. They are relevant because they encapsulate how quantum mechanics appeared to be the first serious departure from a realist ontology and epistemology in science; an apparent crack in the veneer, with some apparent Kant shining through. That is, if one is willing to let go of what makes science work. Bohr was not prepared to take this step and his position, which has become the dominant one amongst workers using this theory, has helped maintain science as something distinct from philosophy.
One the other hand, Einstein had a point too, but unfortunately, the baby was tossed with the bath water. Einstein was one of the greatest physicists to ever live, but he was a mediocre philosopher at best. The split between science and philosophy that occurred over the 19th century fully manifested itself in the 20th century. The result was a lot of wheel spinning and wheels being reinvented, which is still going on today. The juvenile philosophies being tossed around today (here; with some antidote here) are as if someone rediscovered Newton’s three laws and everyone thought it was just so cool. It is all quite silly.
The fact is, philosophically, not much can be said after Kant. Yes, yes, yes, I know there are critiques of his work (one here). These stem mostly from others who can’t accept that the shadows are indeed shadows. I am talking about Kant’s major points. The major thesis of his transcendental idealism is about as air tight as this kind of stuff can get. If we do not know how to explore the depths of our consciousness, then we are trapped in our awareness, and we cannot directly access the “transcendental”.
One avenue by which to see the truth of this assertion is that Western philosophy has had little of use to say since Kant, except the existentialists. “God is Dead” was the throwing in of the towel for the brighter light bulbs.
I was careful to say “not much can be said after Kant” because between writing What is Science? and now, I’ve read Hermann Weyl. Now he was a good philosopher. He had useful things to say that took Kant’s ideas into consideration, and in doing so provide a useful perspective of how this activity we call “science” fits into the larger intellectual scheme of things. I wrote about some of this already. The next post will discuss what I will call his “scattered buckshot” approach as a workable solution to Kant’s dilemma, which, as it happens, also offers an explanation of why science even works at all.
To get back to my main point, Einstein was expressing what I last time spoke of as the desperate need for an intellectual security blanket. This is a double-edge impulse. The yogic view of consciousness explains exactly why it is a double-edged thing. If you seek for this security blanket in the shadows of the world-image, you simply will never find it. So, the impulse can drive you nuts…or it can drive you to yoga.
That impulse is the Source, the Absolute, tugging on the consciousness, our consciousness, trapped in the world-image, pulling us back towards It. This is precisely van der Leeuw’s Rhythm of Creation acting within our immediate experience. If one does not have a clear picture of what is doing the pulling, then one struggles more and more, as if in a spider’s web, and gets tangled and trapped more and more in the shadows of the world image. It really is that simple.
You can even see this in Kant. After realizing he was trapped in the mind, and seeing the futility of trying to grasp the transcendental, he nonetheless went ahead and tried to make a theory of knowledge and one of ethics based on some of the relative shadows. He just couldn’t leave well enough alone.
Later, Hegel, in response to Kant, saw something akin to this dualism thing Taimni described above, but instead of having the Eastern perspective that describes the escape hatch out of the mind, Hegel again spins and struggles in the web of shadows and goes nowhere. He comes to the idea of a “spirit” that “self-transcends” dualisms, his whole “thesis-anti-thesis-synthesis” thing, and bingo, he’s all lost in the infinite staircase I discussed in Experience.
To repeat again (because as my undergrad physics Prof Dr. Chimino used to say, “repetition is the key to success in learning….repetition is the key to success in learning…and so on”): the futility of efforts such as these became clear to other smart people. People like Nietzsche and Sartre, and to a lesser extent, Heidegger recognized that it ain’t worth it. Something’s up here and rational, intellectual thinking is in no position to figure out what it is.
Very much like the position Bohr took, actually. Bohr was restrained enough to give this Impulse its due, but did not make the mistake of trying to mix it with what he was absolutely sure of.
So, when we talk about the BBT Kids, we are talking about a bunch of people who have become numb to the impulse that Einstein was trying to express. Bohr was not insensitive to this impulse. I mean, come on, he had the yin/yang symbol on his coat-of-arms. In a fashion, Bohr, in spite of whatever mystic proclivities he had, was taking the agnostic stance similar to the existentialists, under the firm conviction that this would be what was best for science as a discipline. The fact that you are reading this on the internet right now is proof he was correct.
I do not think Bohr threw the baby out with the bath water. He just reserved judgment and wasn’t willing to mix things he wasn’t sure about with things we was sure about, the latter being the meaning of the new physics he helped invent. Einstein didn’t have the discipline to keep these separate, or alternately, had some degree of hubris in his personality and thought he could do what Kant, Hegel et al could not do.
And this takes us back to the BBT Kids. The BBT Kids are numb to all this. The impulse is there. It is always present. It’s just a question of how it gets expressed. Instead of possessing the intellectual fodder that Weyl had, allowing him to respond to the impulse in a constructive fashion, the BBT Kids bandage over it. They fill it with fiction and fantasy. This is perfectly illustrated in Sheldon Cooper’s seamless mixing of string theory with Game of Thrones, the real and the unreal, in the same breath.
Not much needs to be said on this front. The general point can be made using one of my favorite sayings: if you don’t know what you’re missing, you don’t know what you’re missing. Think about it, you’ll get it.
So what does the second part of this post have to do with Taimni’s ideas about the Absolute? It’s the same tact I used in What is Science?: to keep pounding on the wall of ignorance that is called “Western learning” and try to put it into some kind of anchored perspective. Fancy sophisticated math can never beat plain old simple truth. You will die, and that is a fact. As I get older and watch things unfold, the trajectory of Western thought looks more and more to me like a runaway train going over the edge of a cliff. Not that it matters per se. Anything is possible in the Maya, and who am I to judge?
Ok, I’m done for the moment. Next time we discuss Weyl in more depth because, yes, that dude had something to say about the Absolute. We also discuss what I consider to be a legitimate criticism of the ideas of the Absolute we have considered to this point.
Go to Part 6.