Archive for ‘Suddha Sanmargam’

March 3, 2014

A Rare Reminiscence On Ramalingam (2)

An old photograph of Sathiya Gnana Sabhai (Hall of Truth-Knowledge) in its original appearance

Note: TVM’s reminiscences are in block quotes. My comments and corrections are in italics.

In the year 1867, he founded a Society, under the name of “Sumarasa Veda Sanmarga Sungham,” which means a society based on the principle of Universal Brotherhood, and for the propagation of the true Vedic doctrine. I need hardly remark that these principles are identically those of the Theosophical Society.”

TVM’s claim that the principles of Suddha Sanmargam  are “identically those of the Theosophical Society” is a dubious one.

For instance, association with those who embody or practice the spiritual virtues of dedication to the pursuit of realizing ultimate reality, sincerity in speech, compassion, etc., is indispensable on the path of Suddha Sanmargam, but, in contrast to Theosophy,  Suddha Sanmargam has no pantheon and cult of the “Masters”, or dependence on the “Masters” to bring about one’s enlightenment.

Ramalingam was not part of any “lineage” of Gurus and did not start one. He did not anoint anyone as his disciple to continue a lineage. He rejected the role of the “Guru” or “Master” which many of his associates eagerly sought to impose on him.  He dissuaded his associates from focusing on him and encouraged them to concentrate on the practice of Suddha Sanmargam and the realization of ARUTPERUMJOTHI.

Ramalingam recommended rigorous spiritual inquiry and practice, either individually and/or in a group or community, but he never advocated that a seeker must find a “Guru” or “Master”, an intermediary, human or divine, in order to attain  unitive experience and realization of the ultimate reality ARUTPERUMJOTHI. Rather, on the path of Suddha Sanmargam, the ultimate and supreme being, Arutperumjothi, is itself the Guru or teacher nonpareil.

Ramalingam had no “Guru” other than ARUTPERUMJOTHI. It is noteworthy that there are sixteen exquisite verses in his magum opus Agaval which celebrate ARUTPERUMJOTHI’s role as his supreme Guru or teacher. I will discuss these verses in a future post.

“In the year 1867, he founded a Society, under the name of “Sumarasa Veda Sanmarga Sungham,” which means a society based on the principle of Universal Brotherhood, and for the propagation of the true Vedic doctrine”.

It is important to note that TVM fails to mention that Ramalingam changed the name of the spiritual path and Order he founded in 1867 to better reflect its principles and goals.

Initially, it had the name “Samarasa Veda Sanmarga Sangam” (Tamil: சமரச வேத சன்மார்க சங்கம்) and included the word “Veda” signifying, in this context, knowledge or realization of  two central facets of  Samarasam (Tamil:சமரசம்), unity and harmony.

Ramalingam later adopted the name “Samarasa Suddha Sanmarga Sangam” (சமரச சுத்த சன்மார்க சங்கம்).  As we shall see later, this change of name and the removal of “Veda” from it  is deeply significant.

The ideal of Samarasam (சமரசம்) held a central place in the visionary philosophy of the great  17th century (some unreliable accounts place him in the 18th century) Tamil mystic and poet Thayumanavar (தாயுமானவர், 1602 – 1662).

A Poem Of Thayumanavar (17th century Tamil mystic and poet)
Eternal, pure, groundless, death-and-birth free, pervasive, ever immaculate, distant, near, enveloping effulgence of void, the support of all, the fullness of bliss, the consciousness-form beyond thought and speech, That which thus stood, the expanse vast that generates bliss, let us contemplate.”

Thayumanavar’s ideal of Samarasam, the realization of unity and harmony underlying apparent diversity and conflict of doctrines on the nature of ultimate reality, was his solution to the philosophical conflict between the Vedanta, i.e., primarily the non-dualist (advaita) approach, and the theistic Tamil Saiva Siddhanta schools of thought, and, generally, religious conflict based on doctrinal differences on the nature of ultimate reality.

Thayumanavar implemented his solution in terms of a remarkable integration of  the approaches of Vedanta and the Tamil Saiva Siddhanta (Vedanta Siddhanta Samarasam) to the nature of  ultimate reality and its relation to the self.

Thayumanavar’s project of integration was not merely an intellectual and obscurantist “dialectical” exercise a la Hegel, but the expression of  a deep and comprehensive experience and realization of the truth that the facets of ultimate reality exclusively emphasized by (Advaita) Vedanta and Saiva Siddhanta are complementary facets of one reality.

In contrast, Ramalingam’s ideal of Samarasam is a state of unity and harmony based on the transcendence of the conflicting doctrines, ideals, and values rather than any form of synthesis and integration of those doctrines, ideals, and values. In its moral dimension, it also includes a sense of unity and kinship with all sentient beings regardless of their differences and diverse mutual relations.

In other words, the conflict engendered by the relevant doctrinal or theological propositions “A” and “Not A”, in this context, is not resolved by synthesis, but dissolved by transcending and relinquishing adherence to them.

The transcendence of partial, exclusive, and conflicting  standpoints which constitutes the ideal of Samarasam in Suddha Sanmargam is the attainment of a level of consciousness in which there is no partial, fragmentary, and incomplete understanding of ultimate reality and its relation to the world. Therefore, there is no attempt to “synthesize” the diverse and conflicting partial and fragmented forms of understanding and expression of the nature of ultimate reality.

Since the division and conflict of doctrines, ideals, and values is a function of partial, fragmentary, and incomplete understanding of ultimate reality and its relation to the world,  detachment or the withdrawal of any form of adherence to such doctrines, ideals, and values, e.g., the prevalent religions and their theologies, is a sine qua non of attaining the ideal of Samarasam in Suddha Sanmargam.

Hence, on the path of Suddha Sanmargam, no importance is accorded to the synthesis and integration of the conflicting partial, fragmentary, and incomplete doctrines, values, and ideals.

I think that Ramalingam removed the word “Veda” from the earlier name of his society because of its inveterate association with the Vedic tradition of India, a tradition rooted in the four Vedas or “sacred scriptures”, Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Veda.

Ramalingam never had any allegiance to this Vedic tradition. He had rejected it even in the early stages of his spiritual quest. His total rejection of the caste system implies a complete rejection of Vedic justifications of the caste system.

There are many verses in his Agaval which declare that Arutperumjothi is beyond the range of the conjectures of the Vedas and Agamas. In his later writings and discourses, Ramalingam firmly advised against following the false dogmas, rituals, and divisive social codes of the Vedas and Agamas.

Ramalingam’s central reason for his rejection of the Vedas and Agamas pertains to the fact that their extant corpus is vitiated by an admixture of truths and falsehoods and obscurantism. He acknowledged that there were glimpses, in the vast corpus of the Vedas and Agamas, of the true way to the realization of ultimate reality, but that these rare glimpses are marred by partial understanding, distortions, perversions, and obscurity of language.

The term “Sanmargam” (சன்மார்க்கம்,  caṉ-mārkkam) also requires clarification. It is the path of wisdom culminating in enlightenment, liberation, and adepthood. The prefix “Suddham” (Tamil:சுத்தம்) means “pure” and also “complete or whole”.

Hence, Suddha Sanmargam is the pure and complete path of wisdom leading to enlightenment, liberation, and adepthood.

The great Tamil classic of yoga, the Thirumandiram (800 CE), gives us a description of the path of Sanmargam in eleven verses (1477 – 1487)  in its fifth book or “tantra”. The work contains nine “tantras” or “books”. According to the fifth book or “tantra” of Thirumandiram:

1. Sanmargam leads to the transcendence of the ego and the conquest of death.

2. Sanmargam is the path of wisdom concerning the Light of ultimate reality which constitutes the goal  of all scriptures in the Vedic and Agamic traditions.

3. Sanmargam is a universal path to enlightenment, liberation, and adepthood.

4.  The dedicated and worshipful contemplation of the Guru is an essential element of the path of Sanmargam. (According to Ramalingam, it is Arutperumjothi who is the ultimate Guru on the path of Suddha Sanmargam.)

5. Sanmargam gives us the clarity of vision and enlightenment necessary for liberation.

6. Sanmargam leads to the attainment of the “Supreme Grace-Bliss”.

7. Sanmargam leads to the removal of impurities of consciousness and attainment of silence (of mind), bliss, and oneness with the ultimate being.

8. Sanmargam leads to insight into the nature of the self, its structure of bondage, its fetters of karma and the consequent variety of its states and conditions,  the nature of primordial matter, the consciousness which permeates the core of matter, and the innumerable mutations or transformations in the universe.

I will continue with my commentary on TVM’s reminiscences in my next post.

October 16, 2013

A Rare Reminiscence On Ramalingam (1)

Chidambaram Ramalingam
May All Beings Attain Bliss and Flourish!

Although Ramalingam (1823 – 1874) was a contemporary of Ramakrishna (1836 – 1886) the famous Bengali mystic, he is hardly known outside the state of Tamilnadu, India, and educated circles among the Tamil-speaking peoples of the world.

Ramakrishna in spiritual ecstasy (photographed in 1879)

Ramakrishna had some articulate disciples, e.g., Vivekananda, who brought him and his teachings to the attention of the world at large. He also had disciples such as “M”, or Mahendranath Gupta, whose record of the conversations of Ramakrishna, the “Gospel of Ramakrishna“, is a classic in the genre of records of conversations with great figures.

In contrast, Ramalingam, despite his greater intellectual, moral, and spiritual stature, did not have anyone of the caliber of “M”, or Mahendranath Gupta, to persistently and faithfully record his observations, discourses, and conversations.

The radical originality of Ramalingam’s mature spiritual insights and moral values were beyond the ken of understanding of most of his contemporaries and even many of his close associates.

Indeed, some of his radical proposals, e.g., his proposal that we ought to train more animals, in just the way in which we train some domestic dogs, to refrain from hurting and killing other animals, his uncompromising stance on our moral obligation to practice vegetarianism, his view that plant life also deserves moral consideration, are beyond the range of moral sensibility and imagination of many of our own contemporary “ethical thinkers”!

It seems to me that most of his associates, including the long-standing ones, barely had an inkling of his greatness and originality as a radical Siddha or adept who rejected not only irrational social divisions and practices based on caste and religious sectarianism, but also the narrow structures of prevalent religious and philosophical thought.

Fortunately, we can yet have a glimpse of his stature on the basis of the great works he penned in Tamil:  மனு முறைகண்ட வாசகம் (Manu’s Norm of Justice) a great work of morals composed in ornate Tamil prose dealing with the ancient Chola King Manu’s dispensation of justice regardless of species membership, ஜீவகாருண்ய ஒழுக்கம் (The Ethic of Compassion for Sentient Beings) an unfinished masterpiece on the ethics and spirituality of Suddha Sanmargam, அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி அகவல் (Verses On The Immense Light of Compassion) one of the greatest classics of revelatory mystical poetry, and the tetralogy of சுத்த சன்மார்க்க விண்ணப்பம் (Petitions of Suddha Sanmargam), incomparably inspired short classics of spirituality in Tamil prose, and many volumes of poems and songs.

Perhaps, Ramalingam himself was responsible for this paucity of reliable first-hand accounts of his life, discourses, and conversations. He shunned publicity. He was uncompromising in discouraging the formation of a “cult of personality” around him. He prohibited many attempts to turn him into a popular or famous religious figure, e.g., he did not give permission to prefix the title of “Swami” to his name in the two volumes of his early devotional poetry published during his lifetime by some of his friends.

Therefore, it is remarkable that there is an authentic and published piece of reminiscence, albeit brief and inadequate, on Ramalingam, by one of his earliest students, தொழுவூர் வேலாயுத முதலியார் (Thozhuvoor Velayuda Mudaliar, 1832 – 1889). His reminiscence on Ramalingam was published in The Theosophist, Vol. III, No. 10, July, 1882.

T. Velayuda Mudaliar (TVM) was Second Tamil Pandit at the prestigious Presidency College in Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamilnadu, India. He was also a member of the Theosophical Society. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to place Ramalingam in the pantheon of the “Masters” of theosophical thought, he engages in some omissions and distortions of his teacher’s original and radical views.

TVM became a student of Ramalingam in 1849 when he was merely seventeen. Ramalingam himself was only twenty-six at that time, but he had already acquired a reputation as a lecturer and savant of Tamil letters. We should not forget that Ramalingam was a prodigy who had started composing poems and songs at the age of nine and had also delivered some eloquent discourses on Tamil Saiva literature in his teens.

TVM was associated with Ramalingam for twenty-five years,  from 1849 to 1874. Apparently, he was present when, according to his account of what transpired, Ramalingam entered a room in Siddhi Valagam, a cottage in the village of Mettukuppam near Vadalur, Tamilnadu, India, on January 30th, 1874, laid himself on a carpet on the floor, and asked those present to lock the door from the outside and wall up the only window, a small one, in the room. He was never to see Ramalingam again during his lifetime. 

TVM passed away in 1889, fifteen years after the disappearance of his teacher.

There is a funny story about their first meeting in 1849.

A friend of TVM’s father urged him to become a student of Ramalingam and learn the art of poetry. TVM, a teenager at that time, wanted to test Ramalingam’s proficiency in Tamil poetry. So, he composed a medley of verses closely resembling Sangam or classical Tamil poetry and asked Ramalingam for his judgment on the verses he claimed were composed by the Sangam or classical Tamil poets.

Ramalingam took one glance at the poems, laughed, and said that they were not the compositions of the Sangam or classical Tamil poets, but those of an upstart! TVM fell at Ramalingam’s feet and apologized. Ramalingam graciously brushed the whole thing aside and accepted TVM as his student.

Let us now take a look at TVM’s reminiscence on Ramalingam. His reminiscences are in block quotes. My comments and corrections are in italics.

From The Theosophist, Vol. III, No. 10, July, 1882, pp. 243-244:

STATEMENT OF THOLUVORE VELAYUDHAM MUDALIAR, SECOND TAMIL PANDIT OF THE PRESIDENCY COLLEGE, MADRAS.

To the Author of Hints on Esoteric Theosophy:

“Sir,—I beg to inform you that I was a Chela of the late “Arulprakasa Vallalare,” otherwise known as Chidambaram Ramalinga Pillai Avergal, the celebrated Yogi of Southern India. Having come to know that the English community, as well as some Hindus, entertained doubts as to the existence of the Mahatmas (adepts), and, as to the fact of the Theosophical Society having been formed under their special orders; and having heard, moreover, of your recent work, in which much pains are taken to present the evidence about these Mahatmas pro and con—I wish to make public certain facts in connection with my late revered Guru. My belief is, that they ought effectually to remove all such doubts, and prove that Theosophy is no empty delusion, nor the Society in question founded on an insecure basis.”

It is not clear why TVM is intent on offering his account of Ramalingam and his teachings as a form of supporting evidence for the doctrines of theosophy. Instead, he ought to have offered his account as an introduction to Suddha Sanmargam, the new revolutionary path and teaching of Ramalingam.

1.Let me premise with a brief description of the personality of and the doctrines taught by the above-mentioned ascetic, Ramalingam Pillai. He was born at Maruthur, Chidambaram Taluq, South Arcot, Madras Presidency. He came to live at Madras at an early period of his career, and dwelt there for a long time. At the age of nine, without any reading, Ramalingam is certified by eyewitnesses to have been able to recite the contents of the works of Agastia and other Munis equally respected by Dravidians and Aryans. In 1849, I became his disciple, and, though no one ever knew where he had been initiated, some years after, he gathered a number of disciples around him.”

TVM fails to mention the year in which Ramalingam was born. It was 1823.

Ramalingam lived in Chennai (formerly Madras) from 1825 to 1855, from the age of two to the age of thirty-two when he left Chennai for good.

TVM’s reference to Ramalingam’s caste, his use of “Pillai” as a caste suffix to the name “Ramalingam”, tells us that he did not really imbibe Ramalingam’s insistent prescription to transcend caste identity and division.  The available originals of Ramalingam’s letters, the earliest of them written in 1858, show that Ramalingam signed these letters with the name “Chidambaram Ramalingam” eschewing the conventional avowal of his “Pillai” caste.

It is rather odd that in this very reminiscence TVM himself also says of Ramalingam that “As he preached against caste, he was not very popular. But still people of all castes gathered in large numbers around him.”

It is also misleading to refer to Ramalingam as an “ascetic”. He was certainly very simple and abstemious in his habits, but he was not one of those typical Indian ascetics who lived in caves and engaged in self-mortification and torture of the body. 

It is noteworthy that he wrote a short work consisting of prescriptions to regulate daily life and conduct. This work clearly advocates moderation and the avoidance of extremes in matters of food, sleep, work, sex, etc., with a view to preserving the health of the body and extending its longevity.

“At the age of nine, without any reading, Ramalingam is certified by eyewitnesses to have been able to recite the contents of the works of Agastia and other Munis equally respected by Dravidians and Aryans.”

Ramalingam was certainly a child prodigy and self-taught to a remarkable extent. Given his aversion to formal education and rote learning even in his childhood, his command of Tamil and his precocious knowledge of Tamil literature remains something of a mystery.

Equally mysterious is his early command of Sanskrit expressions and their apposite use in some of his Tamil poems, songs, and prose works. This also shows that he was not a Tamil purist, contrary to the attempts of  later Tamil purists to claim him as a forerunner of their ill-conceived movement.

Perhaps, even as a boy, Ramalingam had the opportunity to listen to, understand, and absorb the content of conversations his elder brother Sabhapathi and his teacher Kanchipuram Sabhapathi Mudaliar had with other Tamil scholars and Sanskrit pundits. 

Agastya (Tamil:  அகத்தியர், 700 BCE),  the foremost of the Tamil Siddhas, is considered the “father” of the Tamil literary tradition and the author of the earliest work on Tamil grammar, the Agathiyam. Numerous ancient Tamil works on medicine, alchemy, and astrology are attributed to him.

Agastya

Although in his boyhood and youth, Ramalingam looked up to Sambandar, a seventh century (CE) Saiva saint and poet as his model and teacher, he did not have any formal initiation from any living teacher of his time and did not belong to any religious tradition or lineage by way of an initiation from a Guru. He is, therefore, unique in the annals of Indian mysticism.

It is, however, noteworthy that in his magnum opus Arutperumjothi Agaval, Ramalingam praises Arutperumjothi as the supreme Guru or teacher who taught him all he needed to know despite a lack of formal education, study and recitation of “sacred scriptures”, etc.

2.He was a great Alchemist.” 

Ramalingam’s interest in alchemical experiments is evident in a letter (dated May 3, 1868) he wrote, at age 45, to his boyhood friend Irukkam Rathina Mudaliar who was living in Chennai. In this letter, the only one of its kind, Ramalingam asks his friend to send him implements for polishing gold and silver pieces and scales for weighing them.

Since Ramalingam was averse to carrying or keeping money or other valuables with him, this unusual request was probably made in the interest of his alchemical experiments. It must, however, be noted here that other than declaring that the path of Suddha Sanmargam leads to the acquisition of powers to bring about different forms of alchemical transformation, Ramalingam did not reveal any further information about his alchemical experiments and their outcomes in any of his writings.

3. “He had a strange faculty about him, witnessed very often, of changing a carnivorous person into a vegetarian; a mere glance from him seemed enough to destroy the desire for animal food.”

TVM’s claim that Ramalingam had a “strange faculty” or power to bring about in others an aversion to eating animal flesh and a preference to partake vegetarian food is not surprising in light of Ramalingam’s uncompromising commitment to vegetarianism.

In fact, Ramalingam acknowledged in some of his verses that it was Arutperumjothi who revealed to him that those who consume animal flesh and thereby encourage the slaughter of animals do not belong to the Sangha or Order of Suddha Sanmargam. It is a central principle of Suddha Sanmargam that we must consume only food produced or obtained without intentionally causing any avoidable destruction of plant and animal life.

In his great essay on “The Ethic of Compassion for Sentient Beings”, Ramalingam advocates a vegetarian diet which does not involve the destruction of plant life. He also points out that the harvesting of many fruits and vegetables does not involve the destruction of the plant or tree yielding those vegetables or fruits. Milk and products based on it are also permissible to the practitioners of Suddha Sanmargam on the condition that the cows or goats yielding the milk are treated compassionately.

It is also noteworthy that at the top of the entrance to the Sathiya Gnana Sabhai or the “Hall of Truth-Knowledge” he designed and helped to build in 1871, Ramalingam had  posted an edict prohibiting those indulging in the killing of sentient beings and the consumption of meat from entering the inner premises of the Hall. However, they were still permitted to remain in the outer area of the Hall and contemplate Arutperumjothi if they wished to do so.

Only Those Who Have Refrained from Meat and Murder Should Enter!” (Ramalingam’s edict in the entrance to the Sathiya Gnana Sabhai or “Hall of Truth-Knowledge”, Est. 1871)

4. “He had also the wonderful faculty of reading other men’s minds.”

In his Arutperumjothi Agaval, Ramalingam does make a claim to the possession of numerous “occult powers” or “Siddhis” bestowed on him by Arutperumjothi. Thought-reading is certainly among the minor “occult powers” or “Siddhis”. So, it is not surprising to have TVM’s testimony that Ramalingam had “the wonderful faculty of reading other men’s minds.”

5.In the year 1855, he left Madras for Chidambaram, and thence to Vadulur and Karingooli (sic), where he remained a number of years. Many a time, during his stay there, he used to leave his followers, disappearing to go no one knew whither, and remaining absent for more or less prolonged periods of time.”

Chidambaram is a famous Saiva temple city near the east coast of Tamilnadu, India.

Sacred Tank and Pagoda at “Chillambaran” (sic), India, 1870

Vadalur, a small town in Cuddalore district, state of Tamilnadu, India, is the location of Ramalingam’s masterpiece, Sathiya Gnana Sabhai, or “Hall of Truth-Knowledge”:

Sathiya Gnana Sabhai or “Hall of Truth-Knowledge”, Est. 1871

Vadalur is also the location of the “House of True Charity”, a “soup kitchen” built at Ramalingam’s behest and designed to feed the hungry poor with vegetarian meals. It has been doing so since its inception in 1867.

“Karingooli” (sic) or Karungkuzhi (the Tamil name “Karungkuzhi” literally means “Black Hole” and the symbolic contrast it provides to Ramalingam’s Illuminationism is striking!) is a small town about three miles from Vadalur in the coastal district of Cuddalore, Tamilnadu, India.

Ramalingam lived in Karungkuzhi for nine years (1858 – 1867) in a room in the house of a merchant devotee, Venkata Reddy. Reddy had met Ramalingam in Chidambaram and was deeply impressed by his character. He had then invited Ramalingam to stay in his house in Karungkuzhi.

On perceiving Reddy’s sincerity and depth of feeling, Ramalingam accepted his invitation. However, he still continued to periodically leave Karungkuzhi and visit Chidambaram and other celebrated temple towns in the region.

He left Karunguzhi for good in 1867 and moved to Vadalur to reside in the “Sathiya Dharma Salai” or “Abode of True Charity”, the “soup kitchen” he had helped to build with financial contributions from his friends and members of the local community.

The surviving letters of Ramalingam show that on many occasions he responded to entreaties by his associates to visit them, or to visit him, by stating that he was away on some important task and would become available to them after a specified time.

Even as a boy growing up in Chennai, Ramalingam would often wander off to visit the great temples in the city and its suburbs. He probably did the same thing in his later years in the Vadalur area to avoid the crowds of people who came to see him with a desire to witness a display of his “siddhis”.

This is consistent with his love of solitude, the vast and varied expanses of nature, and the many illustrious Saiva temples in the region in which he lived. There are verses in the Arutperumjothi Agaval celebrating oceans, lakes, mountains, groves, etc., and the grandeur of Arutperumjothi’s power in bringing about their existence. The coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal in eastern Tamilnadu were not far from his residence in the Vadalur area and were probably among his favorite haunts.

6. “His habits were excessively abstemious. He was known to hardly ever take any rest. A strict vegetarian, he ate but once in two or three days, and was then satisfied with a few mouthfuls of rice. But when fasting for a period of two or three months at a time, he literally ate nothing, living merely on warm water with a little sugar dissolved in it.”

This is extraordinary! Our medical doctors and scientists should take note! Here is a man who was “known to hardly ever take rest”, but was extremely abstemious in his habits of eating, and sometimes subsisted merely on “warm water with a little sugar dissolved in it”!

Note that TVM again draws our attention to Ramalingam’s uncompromising vegetarianism. What a contrast Ramalingam provides to our numerous “religious leaders” and “moral thinkers” whose entrails have become veritable processing plants of animal body parts!

It is important to note again in this context that Ramalingam did not advocate fasting or asceticism. In almost all of his letters to his friends, associates, and former students, he solicitously insisted that they take proper care of their bodies by means of regulation of food, sleep, work, and sex.

He advocated moderation because, for a vast majority of people, both excess and abstinence undermined the health, vitality, and longevity of the body, a precious instrument for attaining enlightenment and liberation. I have already pointed out that he also composed a short work of prescriptions for the regulation of daily life based on the principle of moderation in food, sleep, work, and sex.

Ramalingam’s own condition was unique, and, by his own testimony, the result of transformations wrought in his body, mind, and soul by the compassionate and omnipotent action of Arutperumjothi. Hence, it would be foolish to merely imitate him in matters of food, sleep, etc., without benefit of those transformations.

On the path of Suddha Sanmargam, practitioners must consistently follow his principle of avoidance of excess of indulgence and abstinence or deprivation in relation to the basic bodily needs. 

TVM mentions Ramalingam’s use of “warm water with a little sugar dissolved in it.” Ramalingam prescribed the use of hot or warm water at all times for purposes of drinking, preparation of food and medicine, and bathing. He held the view that water was maximally beneficial in its well-boiled state or condition. Needless to say, his prescription accords well with our scientific knowledge of the reality of water-borne germs and parasites and many of the fatal diseases caused by them.

7. “In personal appearance, Ramalingam was a moderately tall, spare man—so spare, indeed, as to virtually appear a skeleton—yet withal a strong man, erect in stature, and walking very rapidly; with a face of a clear brown complexion, a straight, thin nose, very large fiery eyes, and with a look of constant sorrow on his face.”

An artist’s rendering of Ramalingam’s appearance. However, it must be noted, in accordance with TVM’s reminiscence, that Ramalingam wore footwear and emphasized the importance of doing so.

Again, it is extraordinary that there was a fount of energy and strength in Ramalingam belied by his spare or thin body, “so spare, indeed, as to virtually appear a skeleton”. Perhaps, the source of this fount of energy and strength was not his physical body, but his radiant subtle body. Indeed, this idea receives an affirmation in one of the verses at the beginning of his great work Arutperumjothi Agaval:

ஊக்கமு முணர்ச்சியு மொளிதரு

மாக்கையும ஆக்கமு மருளிய

வருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி.

Vitality, intensity of perception and feeling,

a radiant body,

the inner wealth of powers of accomplishment,

bestowed on me,

by

Arutperumjothi!”  (Agaval 13-14, Trans.Thill Raghu)

TVM’s reference to Ramalingam’s “very large fiery eyes” is interesting. Certainly, those large eyes must have communicated the fire of spiritual and moral intensity in Ramalingam. His eyes may have looked into the very depths of the suffering of sentient beings and the heights of transcendence.

TVM has already mentioned Ramalingam’s strange power of suppressing, by a mere look, a person’s desire to consume animal flesh. It is worth recalling here a relevant verse in the Arutperumjothi Agaval:

கதிர்நல மென்னிரு கண்களிற் கொடுத்தே
அதிசய மியற்றெனு மருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி.

A luminescence,

beautiful and benign,

enabling the extraordinary,

imparted to my eyes,

by

Arutperumjothi!”  (AGAVAL 273 – 274, Trans. Thill Raghu)

What about TVM’s reference to “a look of constant sorrow” on Ramalingam’s face? What sense can we make of this feature of Ramalingam’s visage?

If we consider the pre-illumination or pre-enlightenment phase of Ramalingam’s life, then this feature of “a look of constant sorrow” probably and primarily expressed his intense longing for union with the ultimate being and his sorrow at not having attained this union. There is a great deal of evidence for this interpretation in the poems of his early and middle period.

However, we should also consider the autobiographical poems in which Ramalingam speaks of his suffering at the sight of withering plants, animals taken to the slaughterhouse, and the hungry poor. Certainly, his “look of constant sorrow” also stems from his all-embracing empathy and compassion for sentient beings undergoing harm and suffering.

Why would this “look of constant sorrow” remain in his visage after his enlightenment and liberation?

This is not personal sorrow, but a sorrow stemming from compassion for those still enmeshed in ignorance and the ensuing sufferings they are bound to undergo in endless cycles of birth and death expended in pursuit of the fulfillment of egocentric desires.

I will continue with TVM’s reminiscence on Ramalingam in the next post.

August 19, 2013

ARUTPERUMJOTHI: The Destroyer Of Skepticism And Phlegm!

The Doubting Thomas by Caravaggio

ஐயமுந் திரிபு மறுத்தென துடம்பினுள்
ஐயமு நீக்கிய வருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி.

(ARUTPERUMJOTHI AGAVAL 19-20)

Doubt, distortion, and perversion of thought were extirpated,

And, in my body,

Phlegm was eliminated by

Arutperumjothi!” (Trans. Thill Raghu)

By “skepticism”, I mean philosophical skepticism, the philosophical view that knowledge is impossible, and that, therefore, we cannot be certain about any claim.

Philosophical skepticism, consequently, celebrates and glorifies doubt, intellectual vacillation, uncertainty, and the display of virtuosity in attacking and rejecting any truth-claim.

It is also very peculiar that philosophical skeptics uncritically assume that doubting is an intrinsically valuable practice. Hence, the endless and wearisome disquisitions, short or long, issuing forth from the philosophical skeptics, on the glory and rapture of being stuck forever in the swamps of doubt and uncertainty!

But, given the fact that philosophical skepticism is an exercise in intellectual and moral perversion,  we should seriously consider whether philosophical skepticism is a form of mental, moral, and spiritual disease which wreaks havoc in the mind in ways analogous to the havoc wrought by phlegm in the body.

Philosophical skepticism is a form of intellectual perversion because it deliberately denies the necessary conditions of its own formulation and assertion.

It denies that we can know anything and yet the very assertion of this skeptical position presupposes a knowledge of the meaning of the words and the corresponding concepts used in formulating the skeptical view or position. Otherwise, the skeptic must confess that he does not know what he is asserting or doubting!

Doubt implies an object of doubt, something which is subject to doubt. If the skeptic acknowledges that he knows what the object of his doubt is, e.g., a general or specific claim or thesis, then he is hoisted on the petard of inconsistency since he is saying both that he cannot know anything and that he also knows what he is doubting.

In Ludwig Wittgenstein’s parlance (His late work On Certainty sounds the death knell of philosophical skepticism!), we could say: Whereof you can doubt meaningfully, thereof you must know something.

Every act of doubting presupposes items of knowledge exempted from doubt. Doubting is meaningful only in the context, and against the backdrop, of knowledge. And this knowledge is often expressed in actions, in doing.

Let us consider one of the many peculiar assumptions of the philosophical skeptic, and of those who laud a skeptical stance toward anything and everything, the assumption that a doubt is intrinsically valuable. This false value (judgment) is at the root of the disease of skepticism.

The assumption is clearly absurd. It is analogous to the claim that an assertion is intrinsically valuable, or that a belief is intrinsically valuable, or that a denial is intrinsically valuable, and so on.

These are all absurd claims because, obviously,  the value of any assertion, belief, or denial is dependent on the content or object of the given assertion, belief, or denial, and the grounds or reasons for doing so. There is nothing intrinsically valuable about the denial that we need to breathe in order to live, or in the assertion that we can live merely on air, or in a belief in unicorns.

In just the same way, it is absurd to hold that a doubt is intrinsically valuable. Whether or not a doubt is valuable depends on the context, the content or object  of doubt, and the grounds for the doubt. There is nothing of value in someone expressing correctly,  in English, a doubt concerning his or her ability to say anything at all in English.

It is also equally absurd to express doubts on the “reliability of perception per se” or “reliability of inference per se” and so forth.

Although it is meaningful in certain  contexts to raise doubts about whether what we are seeing actually exists, whether our perception is veridical, and so forth, it makes no sense to doubt the “reliability of perception” for the simple and obvious reason that if perception were not, on the whole, reliable, the “doubting Thomas” would not even exist to vaunt his prowess in doubting everything! The very existence or survival of the doubter is testimony to the reliability of perception!

Further, there is a gross non sequitur and incoherence in the skeptical denial of the reliability of perception.

The skeptical denial of the reliability of perception invokes cases in which we turn out to be mistaken in thinking that our perceptions are veridical or correspond to reality, e.g., seeing that a stick is bent in water, seeing a mirage of an oasis in the middle of a desert, etc. But it is a gross non sequitur to infer from such cases that perception itself is unreliable as a means of knowledge.

This is because our judgments on the unreliability of our perceptions in these cases invoke and depend on the reliability of our perceptions in other cases!

We say that it is only an appearance that the stick is bent in water because we see that it is not bent when we take it out of water and we have no good grounds to doubt that such perceptions are veridical. We also reason inductively based on past perceptions that a stick cannot be bent merely by immersing it in a stagnant pool of water and that, therefore, it is an optical illusion that the stick looks bent when it is immersed in water.

Above all, we presuppose that our perception of the existence of the stick is veridical! If we do not presuppose that our perception of the existence of the stick is veridical, we cannot meaningfully raise any questions about the status of our perceptions of the appearance of the stick when it is immersed in water!

We judge the sight of an oasis in the middle of a desert to be an optical illusion only because we depend on the reliability of our perception when we get close to the location of the apparent oasis and see nothing there. Again, we also reason inductively based on past perceptions,  our own perceptions and/or that of other individuals, of the absence of oases on approach to their apparent location, that such phenomena are optical illusions.

“Illusion” is  a contrast concept and phenomenon and makes sense only in contrast to reality. If everything were an illusion, we would not even have a concept of illusion. Therefore, the judgment that a given perception is an optical illusion presupposes that we know that some perceptions are veridical or correspond to reality.

Thus, it is a non sequitur to conclude from any case of optical illusion that perception is unreliable as a means of knowledge.

Given that claims of optical illusion presuppose that there are veridical perceptions, or perceptions which correspond to reality, it is an instance of gross incoherence to argue that cases of optical illusions show that perception is unreliable.

And, God forbid, should the “doubting Thomas” go to a philosophy conference to celebrate the virtue of doubting the reliability of perception per se, the very act is testimony not only to the “reliability of perception”, but his reliance on perception!

If the skeptic is not stupid, then he already knows all these obvious truths. In that case, the pretense and insincerity involved in striking his absurd pose of ignorance or uncertainty concerning the necessary conditions of asserting coherently the very position of philosophical skepticism is certainly a form of moral perversion.

In short, philosophical skepticism is a form of intellectual and moral perversion. If perversion is a form of pathology, a disease, then it follows that philosophical skepticism is a form of intellectual and moral pathology.

Ramalingam discerned and expressed all this truth with crystalline clarity  in his magnum opus Arutperumjothi Agaval.

The Agaval verse quoted at the start of this post uses the Tamil word “ஐயம்” twice. In its first occurrence, it refers to doubt, uncertainty, and skepticism. It is conjoined with the word “திரிபு” which means “perversion and distortion”, e.g., divergence from truth, distortion, or misrepresentation, or modification of truth.

ஐயமுந் திரிபு மறுத்தென துடம்பினுள்

Doubt, distortion, and perversion of thought were extirpated,

In its second occurrence at the start of the second line, the same word “ஐயம்”  now refers to Phlegm, a deadly disease of the body:

ஐயமு நீக்கிய வருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி.

And, in my body, phlegm was eliminated by

Arutperumjothi!

His reference to doubt, distortion, perversion of thought, and phlegm in a single verse shows that he viewed doubt, distortion, and perversion of thought as intellectual or mental diseases analogous to the diseases of phlegm in the body,  the former clogging the “respiratory” channels of the mind, as it were, in just the way the latter clogs the vital respiratory channels in the body.

Phlegm makes it difficult for us to breathe well, to take in the vital nourishment of air. Skepticism or persistent doubt makes it difficult for us to fully experience and understand reality, truth, and value. Phlegm destroys physical health. Skepticism or persistent doubt destroys intellectual, moral, and spiritual health and undermines one’s chances of attaining enlightenment and liberation.

The wondrous compassionate action of Arutperumjothi destroyed not only the diseases of skepticism and perversion of thought, including doubts and distortions pertaining to the reality of Arutperumjothi and its compassionate action, in Ramalingam’s mind, but also the diseases of phlegm in his body. No wonder that Ramalingam praises Arutperumjothi as the medicine which cures all ills.

Let us, therefore, seek to render ourselves receptive (no mean task since it involves the obliteration of all falsehood and cruelty in the self or soul) to this wondrous compassionate action of Arutperumjothi so that we too may be free from the diseases of skepticism, doubt, distortion and perversion of thought, and phlegm endemic to our embodied existence!

Refraining from vain indulgence in philosophical skepticism is the first step in this journey toward achieving a state of crystalline clarity of perception and enjoyment of the boundless reality and bliss of Arutperumjothi!

 

June 24, 2013

The Cosmogony of Suddha Sanmargam: Development By Intelligent Design (2)

“Siphonophorae” in Ernst Haeckel’s “Kunstformen der Natur”

The cosmogony of Suddha Sanmargam excludes both randomness and ex nihilo creation (instantaneous creation out of nothing) in its explanation of the complex forms and structures of the universe, including, of course, those of terrestrial life.

Rather, it offers an explanation in terms of a vast process of fine-tuning and development by intelligent design from an initial state of primordial, undifferentiated, and impure matter.

In fact, one of the key concepts in some of the central verses on the compassionate cosmic action of Arutperumjothi in Ramalingam’s magnum opus Arutperumjothi Agaval is “தெருட்டல்” (teruṭtal: fine-tuning, development).

The Agaval also affirms that Arutperumjothi brings about, in its turn and by means of the power of its grace or compassion, the fine-tuning and development of millions of Godheads or supernatural “leaders” (Tamil: தலைவர்கள்) entrusted with the functions of fine-tuning and development of the cosmos:

தெருட்டுந் தலைவர்கள் சேர்பல கோடியை

Godheads of fine-tuning and development (of the cosmos) by the millions


அருட்டிறந் தெருட்டு மருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி.

themselves fine-tuned and developed by the grace of Arutperumjothi!

(Arutperumjothi Agaval, 861, Trans. Thill Raghu)

What this clearly implies is that complex forms and structures in the cosmos are the results of processes of development by intelligent design, a function of processes of development designed and governed by supernatural intelligent agents who are themselves, of course, governed and guided by Arutperumjothi.

The concept of fine-tuning and development by intelligent design clearly excludes both randomness and ex nihilo creation in accounting for the existence and nature of the cosmos, including terrestrial life.

Since randomness is excluded, the cosmogony of Suddha Sanmargam is inconsistent with the Darwinian explanation of the diversity of life and “Darwinian cosmology” or the attempt to extend the Darwinian model of evolution to the entire cosmos.

In a process of development designed, initiated, and governed by intelligent agents, randomness cannot possibly play a central role in accounting for the forms and structures generated by this process of development. Both the concepts of development and  intelligent design also imply teleology or purpose-driven development which is excluded by the Darwinian model.

Development is a fact of nature. So, no scientific theory, including Darwinism, can deny it.

The central issue, however, is whether the processes which have led to the emergence of diverse  complex forms and structures in the cosmos, including the diversity of organic forms, are developmental processes, or, instead,  evolutionary processes in the Darwinian sense, i.e., processes in which randomness rules and teleology and intelligent design have no place whatsoever.

Suddha Sanmargam holds that these processes which have led to the emergence of diverse complex forms and structures in the cosmos, including the diversity of  organic forms, are actually developmental processes governed by intelligent design.

It would follow, for instance,  that the genetic mutations which play a central role in the Darwinian account of the diversity of life are not random mutations, but a function of intelligent or intentional design.

The case for the cosmogony of Suddha Sanmargam rests on two types of evidence: a) evidence showing that developmental processes have brought the diverse complex forms and structures of the cosmos, including those of terrestrial life, into existence, and b) evidence showing that these developmental processes are a function of intelligent design.

I will build this case in subsequent posts in this series.

June 24, 2013

The Cosmogony of Suddha Sanmargam: Development By Intelligent Design (1)

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/22/Haeckel_Ascidiae.jpg/426px-Haeckel_Ascidiae.jpg

Haeckel: Kunstformen der Natur: An Exuberance of Development By Intelligent Design?

A peculiar feature of debates on evolution in the West, particularly in America, is the glaring fallacy of false dilemma shared by protagonists and antagonists alike: evolution OR creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing).

In other words, both the protagonists and antagonists on evolutionism share the wrong assumption that the solution to the problem of explaining the diversity and complexity of  forms of life is simply a matter of choice between two mutually exhaustive alternatives: Darwinian theory of evolution OR the Biblical theory of creation out of nothing.

This assumption embodies the fallacy of false dilemma because there is, at least, one other alternative to consider: development by intelligent design. I will call this Developmental Intelligent Design Theory (DIDT). This is the cosmogony of  Suddha Sanmargam.

This cosmogony of Suddha Sanmargam differs from the Biblical creationist intelligent design theory in that it holds that the diversity of the material,  physical, or  organic forms in the cosmos, and indeed the origin of the cosmos itself, is the result of an ongoing process of development by intelligent design, or development governed by intelligent agency,  rather than creation ex nihilo or instantaneous creation out of nothing.

The notion that the cosmos is the result of a vast process of development is an entrenched one in Indian cosmogony, e.g., the cosmogony of the Sāṃkhya metaphysical system, or the cosmogony of Śaivasiddhānta (Tamil: சைவ சித்தாந்தம்).  Unfortunately, both the protagonists and antagonists in the evolution debates in the West display a deplorable ignorance of Indian cosmogony, and, hence, remain ensconced in their false dilemma of evolution or ex nihilo creation.

How does this developmental intelligent design theory differ from Darwinian evolutionism?

The key difference is that whereas Darwinism accords a central place to randomness in shaping the diversity of the forms of life, developmental intelligent design theory affirms that the diversity of complex forms and structures, not only of life, but of the cosmos itself, is the result of processes of development designed and executed by intelligent agency.

Two questions may arise here: one pertaining to the nature of this intelligent agency governing the processes of development which have produced the diverse complex structures and forms in the cosmos, including those of terrestrial life, and the other pertaining to the modus operandi employed by the intelligent agency and/or intelligent agencies in question.

But these questions or issues are logically independent of the issue of whether recourse to the concept of development by  intelligent agency provides the best explanation of the diversity of complex forms and structures of the cosmos, including those of living beings on earth.

Explanation by recourse to the concept of  development by intelligent agency or development by  intelligent design is not undermined by lack of information on the nature of the intelligent agency or designer(s) at work in this context. Such explanation is also not undermined by any lack of information on the modus operandi of the intelligent agent or intelligent agents in question.

For instance,  an explanation of the existence of a supercomputer in terms of intelligent agency or designer(s) is not undermined by lack of information on the personal characteristics of the agents or designers in question. Nor is it undermined by lack of information on their modus operandi.

Hence, the demand that the proponent of developmental intelligent design theory must also specify the nature of the intelligent agency, or agencies, at work in bringing about and governing processes of development which have produced the diversity of complex forms and structures of the cosmos, including life, and their modus operandi, is irrelevant to the task of examining whether recourse to the concept of a process of development governed by intelligent agency provides the best explanation of the complex structures and forms of the cosmos, including those of terrestrial life.

Of course, there are alternative conceptions of intelligent agency, e.g., the notion of a single intelligent agent, the notion of a plurality of intelligent agents, the notion of a plurality of intelligent agents governed and guided by a single intelligent agent, differing conceptions of the moral character of the intelligent agent or agencies, etc.,  but the issue of adjudication among these different conceptions of intelligent agency is logically independent of the issue of whether the developmental intelligent design theory offers the best explanation of the diverse complex forms and structures of the cosmos.

May 24, 2013

Ayer’s NDE In Light Of Agaval’s “Supernaturalism” (1)

Ramalingam’s magnum opus Arutperumjothi Agaval affirms that there is a vast and diverse plurality of “supernatural” beings, with superhuman, but limited powers and functions, at work and play in a variety of universes, including our own. All are subject, ultimately and naturally, to the omnipotent will of the supreme being Arutperumjothi, the Immense Light of Unique Compassion.

Here are some relevant verses (relevant to this post) in Tamil from the Agaval with my translation:

“வெளியினிற் சத்திகள் வியப்புற சத்தர்கள்
அளியுற வகுத்த வருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி.”

“In space,

powers and amazing beings,

organized with grace

by

Arutperumjothi!” (Agaval 503 – 504, Trans. Thill Raghu)

Hubble Image: Galaxies in a swarm of star clusters

“காவல்செய் தலைவரைக் காவலண்டங்களை
ஆவகை யமைத்த வருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி”

Guardian and protector godheads,

and their worlds,

organized immaculately,

by

Arutperumjothi!” (Agaval 585 – 586, Trans. Thill Raghu)

In this series of posts, I want to show that some types of NDE (“Near-Death Experience”) are best explained in terms of veridical extra-sensory perception of “supernatural” beings. These types of NDE uniformly involve visions of angelic beings, or various “lights” which are perceived to be conscious beings, and so forth.

There is a widespread tendency, given the  reality of NDE’s and the ignorance about the reality and diversity of supernatural beings, to immediately begin babbling about “seeing God”, or about whether such near-death experiences constitute evidence for God’s existence,  and so on, but these NDE’s have no necessary connection with God or ultimate reality.

One of the remarkable NDE reports in recent times is the notable British philosopher A. J. Ayer’s (1910 – 1989) account of his near-death experience in a London hospital one day in June 1988,  which he published in a piece entitled “What I Saw When I was Dead” in the London Daily Telegraph three months after the experience.

A. J. Ayer (in 1952)

Here are the relevant paragraphs from this piece (my italics and emphases):

“I did not attempt to eat the hospital food. My family and friends supplied all the food I needed. I am particularly fond of smoked salmon, and one evening I carelessly tossed a slice of it into my throat. It went down the wrong way and almost immediately the graph recording my heartbeats plummeted.

The ward sister rushed to the rescue, but she was unable to prevent my heart from stopping. She and the doctor subsequently told me that I died in this sense for four minutes, and I have had no reason to disbelieve them.

The doctor alarmed my son Nicholas, who had flown from New York to be by my bedside, by saying that it was not probable that I should recover, and moreover, that if I did recover physically it was not probable that my mental powers would be restored. The nurses were more optimistic, and Nicholas sensibly chose to believe them.

I have no recollection of anything that was done to me at that time. Friends have told me that I was festooned with tubes, but I have never learned how many of them there were or, with one exception, what purposes they served. I do not remember having a tube inserted in my throat to bring up the quantity of phlegm which had lodged in my lungs. I was not even aware of my numerous visitors, so many of them, in fact, that the sister had to set a quota. I know that the doctors and nurses were surprised by the speed of my recovery and that when I started speaking, the specialist expressed astonishment that anyone with so little oxygen in his lungs should be so lucid.

My first recorded utterance, which convinced those who heard it that I had not lost my wits, was the exclamation: “You are all mad.” I am not sure how this should be interpreted. It is possible that I took my audience to be Christians and was telling them that I had not discovered anything “on the other side.” It is also possible that I took them to be skeptics and was implying that I had discovered something. I think the former is more probable, as in the latter case I should more properly have exclaimed, “We are all mad.” All the same, I cannot be sure.

The earliest remarks of which I have any cognizance apart from my first exclamation, were made several hours after my return to life. They were addressed to a Frenchwoman with whom I had been friends for over 15 years. I woke to find her seated by my bedside and started talking to her in French as soon as I recognized her. My French is fluent and I spoke rapidly, approximately as follows: “Did you know that I was dead? The first time that I tried to cross the river I was frustrated, but my second attempt succeeded. It was most extraordinary. My thoughts became persons.”

The only memory that I have of an experience, closely encompassing my death, is very vivid. I was confronted by a red light, exceedingly bright, and also very painful even when I turned away from it. I was aware that this light was responsible for the government of the universe. Among its ministers were two creatures who had been put in charge of space.

These ministers periodically inspected space and had recently carried out such an inspection. They had, however, failed to do their work properly, with the result that space, like a badly fitting jigsaw puzzle, was slightly out of  joint. A further consequence was that the laws of nature had ceased to function as they should. I felt that it was up to me to put things right. I also had the motive of finding a way to extinguish the painful light. I assumed that it was signaling that space was awry and that it would switch itself off when order was restored.

Unfortunately, I had no idea where the guardians of space had gone and feared that even if I found them I should not be able to communicate with them. It then occurred to me that whereas, until the present century, physicists accepted the Newtonian severance of space and time, it had become customary, since the vindication of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, to treat space-time as a single whole.

Accordingly, I thought that I could cure space by operating upon time. I was vaguely aware that the ministers who had been given charge of time were in my neighborhood and I proceeded to hail them. I was again frustrated. Either they did not hear me, or they chose to ignore me, or they did not understand me. I then hit upon the expedient of walking up and down, waving my watch, in the hope of drawing their attention not to my watch itself but to the time which it measured. This elicited no response. I became more and more desperate, until the experience suddenly came to an end.

This experience could well have been delusive. The slight indication that it might have been veridical has been supplied by my French friend, or rather by her mother, who also underwent a heart arrest many years ago. When her daughter asked her what it had been like, she replied that all that she remembered was that she must stay close to the red light.”

Let us take note of the salient features of Ayer’s NDE and their implications:

1. He suffered a certified cardiac arrest for at least four minutes. What this implies is that his brain was deprived of blood flow for four minutes! It is an established fact in medical science that brain activity starts to radically diminish within 10 seconds after a cardiac arrest. This means that Ayer’s brain activity must have significantly diminished and may have even undergone suspension for three minutes and fifty seconds !

2. Further, the combination of cardiac arrest and the excess of phlegm resulting in the paucity of oxygen in his lungs, and, therefore, in his brain, makes it extremely improbable, from the standpoint of medical science, that any significant brain activity could have occurred during this time. From the standpoint of medical science, he was UNCONSCIOUS, which means the absence of conscious experience and thought!!!

3. However, Ayer had an astonishing near-death experience in this narrow window of time in which his brain activity must have diminished dramatically and even undergone suspension, and, what is truly baffling, was able to voluntarily engage in complex reasoning about space and time during the NDE.  He was also able to recollect vividly the whole experience.

4. Curiously, by contrast, Ayer had no recollection, and presumably, no knowledge of what was being done to him, e.g., a tube being inserted into his lungs to drain the excess of phlegm in his lungs, the presence of visitors in the room, etc.

If indeed Ayer’s complex NDE was merely a function of his severely impaired but still functioning brain, an absurd claim in itself and one that Ayer himself entertained, why on earth would this functioning brain have rendered him incapable of knowing what was being done to him by the nurses and the doctor, what was said by them  in those moments, awareness of the presence of visitors, and so on? We should expect that his severely diminished brain activity and capacity would only, if at all, register something occurring in his vicinity in the hospital room rather than bring  about an astonishing and coherent near-death experience marked by an encounter with “supernatural” beings and the ability to vividly recall that experience!

5. Ayer’s NDE encounter with a red light “responsible for the government of the universe”  and its “ministers” was characterized by a remarkable continuity, and, hence, overall coherence. Now,  it is extremely improbable that a severe impairment of the brain, of the sort Ayer must have undergone due to his cardiac arrest and the paucity of oxygen in his phlegm-filled lungs, can generate unusual experiences involving elements of complex reasoning (about space and time) by the subject and characterized by a remarkable overall coherence.

6. Although his physical eyes were incapacitated due to the cardiac arrest, Ayer could still perceive a red light and its “ministers” (the latter presumably had some form since he refers to them as “creatures”) and also perceive space. Given the incapacitated condition of his physical body and its brain, how on earth was it still possible for Ayer to vividly perceive color, form, and space?

7. Ayer also had an immediate, non-inferential  knowledge of the fact that the Red Light he saw was responsible for the government (maintenance or regulation?) of the universe (this or some other universe) and that the “ministers” in its company were in charge of maintaining the structure of space. How could he possibly have known this non-inferentially were it not for the operation of some form of extra-sensory perception? Note also that his brain was severely impaired and could not possibly be the locus of this ESP.

8. Ayer mentions that the Red Light was not only painful to look at, but also caused pain when he turned away from it. This, obviously, implies that he could not only perceive color, but also experience pain.  It also implies he could make a movement or motion with some form of body. This points to an explanation of his NDE in terms of the possession of a “subtle body” which is the locus of these perceptions, sensations, and motions.

9. A remarkable feature of Ayer’s NDE is the striking contrast between his perception and knowledge of the governor of the universe and its ministers responsible for maintaining the structure of space and his attempts to communicate with them on the one hand , and, on the other hand,  the total lack of any attempt on the part of these supernatural beings to acknowledge him or to communicate with him.

Either they were aware of him and chose to ignore him in just the way human architects ignore a bird sitting on a branch, twittering, and watching them work, or they were unaware of his existence. If they were unaware of his existence, it is likely due to the fact that his subtle body was not perceived by them presumably because their bodies were completely different, e.g., made of a brightly colored substance of some kind.

10. Most remarkable is the fact that nothing in Ayer’s repertoire of materialist and naturalist beliefs prepared him for his NDE or led him even to anticipate remotely the likelihood of that NDE. In his account of his NDE, Ayer refers to some kind of “river” he had to cross and fails to describe how he managed to cross it on his second attempt, but it could have been a  “river of light”, a band or barrier of light he had to cross to reach another realm and which he mistook for an actual  “river”.

Ayer suggests that this aspect of his NDE experience was elicited by his “classical education”. But a mere acquaintance or familiarity with the Greek legend of Charon assisting departed souls to cross the river Styx is woefully insufficient to account for this feature of Ayer’s NDE in which he attempted to cross some kind of “river” and succeeded on the second attempt.

If his familiarity with the legend actually elicited  this feature of his NDE, then why did he not also see Charon on his boat? And given the near cessation of his brain activity due to cardiac arrest and paucity of oxygen in his lungs, how exactly does his prior familiarity with the Greek myth have the power to shape his NDE?

Why doesn’t everyone who is familiar with the Greek myth or fervently believes in it and has an NDE  see the river,  Charon, and his boat? I think that the invocation of Ayer’s familiarity with the Greek myth of Charon in this context has all the hallmarks of an implausible “ad hoc hypothesis” in defense of  a materialist or naturalist theory of consciousness and the universe!

A 19th-century interpretation of Charon’s crossing by Alexander Litovchenko.

And what about the red light “responsible for the government of the universe” and its “ministers” in charge of space-time? There is absolutely nothing in Ayer’s well-known stock of beliefs and views which contains or even remotely suggests anything like the existence of these sorts of entities. What background beliefs, then, could have elicited or brought about these central features of his NDE? I see absolutely no connection between Ayer’s belief-system and his NDE. In fact, everything we know about his belief-system emphatically excludes the likelihood of having an NDE, not to mention having the sort of NDE he had.

All these features and implications of his NDE make Ayer’s desperate attempts in subsequent pieces on his NDE, notwithstanding his grudging and attenuated acknowledgment that the NDE has merely somewhat weakened his inflexible attitude toward his belief that conscious experience cannot survive the death of the brain,  to cling to  a materialist/naturalist view of consciousness and the universe  intellectually pathetic, cowardly, and dishonest.

In terms of the worldview of Suddha Sanmargam, based on Ramalingam’s Agaval and the Vinappams or Petitions of Suddha Sanmargam, consciousness is our essential property given our status as souls or individual subjects capable of experience, knowledge, volition, and intentional action. Our consciousness is not dependent on the brain for its existence, but, rather, uses the brain as its instrument to gather experience, know, and function in the material world.  However, our consciousness is finite. It is also afflicted by ignorance and its train of limitations and flaws. Hence, we do not know many of the salient truths pertaining to our own embodiment.

The mind-boggling relation between our consciousness and the brain is the result of supernatural intelligent design, and, ultimately, an act of compassion by Arutperumjothi to facilitate the development of souls from a state of primeval ignorance.

Hence, the exact nature of the relation between our consciousness and the body we temporarily inhabit will remain enigmatic unless we attain enlightenment, or unitive experience and knowledge of Arutperumjothi.

“Disembodiment”, whether by means of death, or cardiac arrest, or other unusual causes, frees our consciousness from its habitual confinement, by way of identification and attachment, to the physical body and its limitations. Hence, we should expect disembodiment to expand the range of perceptions our consciousness is capable of and this may well include perceptions of some “supernatural” beings, particularly those beings which inhabit the realm or universe into which we have drifted in our freedom from the confines of the physical body.

Actually, “disembodiment” is a misnomer for the condition of our consciousness after separation from the confines of the (gross) physical body.

In one of the Vinappams or Petitions of Suddha Sanmargam addressed to Arutperumjothi, Ramalingam refers to a “subtle form” inhabited by a  soul prior to its embodiment in the gross physical body. He also expresses his awe and gratitude at the power of Arutperumjothi in effortlessly and harmoniously bringing about not only a soul’s embodiment in this subtle form or body, but also its  further embodiment in a gross (antonym of “subtle”) physical body. This “subtle form”  or subtle body is the instrument used by our consciousness after the death of the physical body. 

Many aspects of Ayer’s NDE  (and, generally, many aspects of NDE’s and OBE’s or Out-of-Body-Experiences) make sense only on the supposition of a subtle body with its own modes of perception, including perception of color and form.

That part of Ayer’s NDE in which he sees the red light and its ministers and walks up and down waving his hands trying to draw the attention of the supernatural “ministers” in charge of space-time may best be explained in terms of having a subtle body and making the relevant motions with it.

Since his physical body and its eyes were not functioning normally due to cardiac arrest, his near-death experience involving perception of color and form can only be explained in terms of the possession of another type of body, a “subtle body”, with its own capacities of perception. His claim that the red light was painful to look at clearly implies experience of pain and his claim that it was uncomfortable even when he turned away from it implies some type of bodily motion.

All this points to the best explanation of his near-death experience in terms of its locus in a subtle body independent of his physical body.

I will examine these issues further in my next post in this series.

April 22, 2013

Explaining Embodiment (2)

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8c/The_Anatomy_Lesson.jpg

Rembrandt: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Ramalingam’s remarks in the previous post on “Explaining Embodiment (1)” provide a basis for a trenchant argument against the view that the self is identical to, or constituted by, brain processes.

According to Ramalingam, the self is a soul, a non-material entity whose essential nature is consciousness. Since only consciousness can be the bearer of experience, knowledge, and volition, it follows that only the self or soul is the subject which undergoes experiences, acquires knowledge, and engages in volition and action.

Now, it should be clear that the materialist or physicalist identity theory of consciousness, i.e., the view that consciousness is a process of the brain, is absurd.

The reason is that if it makes sense to hold that consciousness is a process of the brain, then, by virtue of the logic of identity (if X is identical to Y, then they have identical properties) and the  fact that consciousness is the bearer of experience, knowledge, and agency, it must also make sense to hold that a brain process is the bearer of experience, knowledge, and agency.

But this is absurd. It is nonsense to hold that any process, including a brain process, can be an experiencer, knower, or an agent or entity engaging in intentional action. It is, in the parlance of the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle, a category mistake to ascribe experience, knowledge, volition, or agency, to any process. A category mistake occurs when we incoherently ascribe properties belonging to one category of reality to an entirely different category of reality, e.g., the literal claim that Mondays are blue. This is a category mistake since it is absurd to literally attribute colors to weekdays.

Processes may constitute the means by which experience or knowledge is acquired, volition is exercised, and action performed,  but it is absurd to accord to processes themselves the status of an experiencer, knower, or intentional agency. This is tantamount to process fetishism!

In Ramalingam’s view, a self or soul, the experiencer, knower, and agent or doer, cannot meaningfully be identified with any part of the body, including the brain, or the body as a whole. This is because the body, including the brain, is made of material constituents which inherently lack consciousness, and, hence, are inherently incapable of  experience, knowledge, intelligence, volition, affect, and intentional agency.

Since the self is the bearer of experience, knowledge, intelligence, volition, affect, and intentional agency, it follows that the materialist or physicalist view identifying  the self with the body and/or brain is false.

The brain is a material structure, and since material constituents are inherently lacking in consciousness, and, therefore,  are also inherently incapable of experience, knowledge, intelligence, volition, affect, and agency or “doership”, materialism or physicalism is,  in principle, incapable of explaining how the material structure of the brain can give rise to experience, knowledge, intelligence, volition, affect, and agency.

Structures made exclusively of constituents inherently lacking a property x cannot possibly account for the existence or emergence of that property.

Neurons are material constituents lacking in consciousness, and, hence, lacking in experience, intelligence, volition, affect, and a sense of agency.

Therefore, their processes cannot possibly account for the reality of consciousness, experience, intelligence, volition, affect, and a sense of agency.

Quantitative complexity, i.e., a vast increase in the number of the same kind of elements or constituents, cannot possibly account for the existence or emergence of properties vastly different from and of a higher order than those constituents.

Thus, the sheer number of material constituents, e.g., neurons, at work in the brain cannot account for vastly different and higher order properties such as experience, intelligence, intentionality, affect, and a sense of agency.

My arm may be the locus of an injury, but it is not my arm which is the experiencer and knower of the pain resulting from the injury. It is absurd to say that my arm knows that it is in pain.

Nothing in the structure of the arm, or the brain for that matter, can possibly account for how the sense of ownership, the sense  that it is my arm, or that I am experiencing pain in my arm, arises.

It is the self or soul which is conscious of the pain in that part of its body. Thus, it is the self or soul, the experiencer and knower, which identifies the location of pain, not the arm itself!

Since this is the case even with physical sensations, clearly it makes no sense to attribute thoughts, emotions, and volitions to the body or any part of it, including the brain.

Ramalingam’s remarks also provide a basis for an equally trenchant argument against the traditional Indian (Advaita) “Vedantic” view that the self or “Atman” transcends all experiences, and, therefore, is not the experiencer of suffering.

On the contrary, Ramalingam holds that it is only the self, soul, or “Atman”, which, by virtue of its essential attribute of consciousness, undergoes all experiences in its embodiment in a particular physical form, including experiences of suffering.

Since the body cannot be the experiencer, or knower, or agent, it is only the self, soul, or “Atman” which can experience and know anything, exercise volition, and perform an intentional action.

Hence, it is the self, or soul, or “Atman” which undergoes experiences of pleasure and pain, happiness and suffering.

Since Ramalingam affirms that it is the self or soul which undergoes experiences of happiness and suffering, he avoids the incoherence which afflicts the traditional Indian (Advaita) Vedantin’s advocacy of moral precepts pertaining to charity, compassion, etc.

If the self or “Atman”  transcends all experiences, and is thereby immune to experiences of suffering, what is the point of advocating moral precepts designed to make one abstain from inflicting harm on others, or to encourage one to contribute to the happiness of others?

The advocacy of these moral precepts makes sense only on the assumption that others are selves capable of experiencing suffering and happiness.

If others are in reality “One Atman” which transcends all experiences and is thereby immune to experiences of happiness or suffering, it makes no difference whether we engage in actions which apparently produce happiness, or which apparently produce suffering, to them.

Indeed, if the self  really transcends all experience, the notion of performing an action itself becomes meaningless! There can be no action without experience. Hence, Advaita Vedanta also denies that the Atman is an agent or doer.

But this only firmly hoists Advaita Vedanta on the petard of  incoherence in its advocacy, not only of moral precepts, but also spiritual practices such as listening to the Sruti or cardinal texts, reflection, meditation, etc.

Given that, according to Advaita Vedanta, the self is not a doer or an agent, it is meaningless and delusive to advocate any moral precepts or spiritual practices since these precepts or practices presuppose a self who is the bearer of experience and knowledge and who can act in accordance with those precepts, or engage in those practices.

Therefore, Suddha Sanmargam, with its emphasis on the cardinal truth that the self or soul is the subject of experiences, a knower, and an agent or performer of actions is, unlike Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism, eminently consistent in its advocacy of the ethic of compassion.

To return to the task of explaining embodiment, I intend to address Ramalingam’s original and radical answer to the central question “Why is there embodiment for a soul?” in my next post in this series.

March 24, 2013

Explaining Embodiment (1)

“Views of a Fetus in the Womb”, Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1510-1512.

It is a fundamental truth of Suddha Sanmargam that sentient beings are embodied souls. Hence, the distinction between body (தேகம்) and soul (ஆன்மா) is a cardinal distinction in Suddha Sanmargam.

What is this distinction?

In the first part of his great unfinished essay on “The Ethic of Compassion for Sentient Beings” composed in 1867, Ramalingam writes:

“இந்தத் தூலதேகத்தில் சீவனாக இருக்கிற ஆன்மாவும் அறிவுக்கறிவாயிருக்கிற கடவுள் இயற்கை விளக்கமுந் தவிர, கரணம், இந்திரியம் முதலிய மற்றவைகளெல்லாம் கருவிகளாகிய தத்துவசடங்களே யல்லது சித்துக்களல்ல.”

In this gross (தூல or sthūla) body, apart from the soul which lives in the body and the inherent illumination of God (கடவுள்) also present in the body, the mind, the inner senses of cognition (கரணம்), and the outer physical senses (இந்திரியம் or Indriyas) are only inert natural constituents (தத்துவசடங்கள்) which are instruments (கருவி) and not entities possessing consciousness and intelligence”.

“ஆகலில் சுகதுக்கங்களைச் சடங்கள் அனுபவிக்க அறியா.”

Therefore, happiness and suffering cannot be experienced and known by those inert natural constituents, viz., senses, mind, the instruments of cognition.

“செம்மண் சந்தோஷ’த்தது துக்கித்தது என்று சொல்லப்படாது. அதுபோல், மனஞ் சந்தோஷ’த்தது துக்கித்தது என்று சொல்லப்படாது.”

We cannot meaningfully say that red mud is happy or sad. In just the same way, we cannot meaningfully say that the mind (மனம் or Manas, an instrument of awareness) is happy or sad.”

“செம்மண்ணினால் தேகவாழ்க்கைக்கு வீடுகட்டிக்கொள்வது போல, மன முதலான கரணேந்திரியங்களால் சீவவாழ்க்கைக்குக் கடவுளால் கட்டிக் கொடுக்கப்பட்ட தேகம் ஒரு சிறிய வீடாகும்.”

In just the way red mud is used to build a house which the body can inhabit, the body and its senses, mind, and instruments of cognition constitute a small house built by God to enable a soul to live in this world.”

“இன்பதுன்பங்களை வீட்டிலிருக்கின்றவன் அனுபவிப்பானல்லது, வீடு அனுபவிக்கமாட்டாது. அன்றியும் காசத்தினால் ஒளி மழுங்கப்பட்டு உபநயனங்களாகிய கண்ணாடிகளால் பார்க்கின்ற கண்கள் துன்ப விஷயத்தைக் கண்டபோது, அக்கண்கள் நீர்சொரியுமே யல்லது, கண்ணாடி நீர் சொரிய மாட்டாது.”

Pleasures and pains are experienced, not by the house, but only by the inhabitant of the house. Further, although spectacles enable a pair of deficient eyes to see clearly,  on seeing scenes of suffering, it is only the eyes which shed tears and not those inert spectacles.”

“ஆகலில் ஆன்ம திருஷ்டிக்கு உபநயனங்களாக இருக்கின்ற மனம் முதலான கருவிகள் சுகதுக்கங்களை அனுபவிக்க மாட்டா; ஆன்மாவே அனுபவிக்குமென்று அறியவேண்டும்.”

Therefore, the mind and other instruments which enable a soul to perceive and understand cannot experience happiness and suffering. Only the soul can experience them.”

Ramalingam anticipates a question in this context.

Since we observe physical signs of grief or happiness in the form of tears, smiles, etc., and also their verbal expressions (rendered by the mind), why can’t we conclude that grief or happiness is actually experienced by the body and the mind?

He answers this question as follows:

“…சுகதுக்கங்களால் ஆன்மாவுக்கு உண்டாகிற மகிழ்ச்சியும் தளர்வும் மனம் முதலான கரணேந்திரியங்களில் பிரதிபலித்துப் புறத்தில் தோன்றுகின்றன. ஆகலில் சுகதுக்கங்கள் ஆன்மாவுக்கே அனுபவமென்றும், சுகதுக்கங்களை அறிந்தனுபவிப்பதற்குக் கரணேந்திரியங்கள் ஆன்மாவுக்கு உபகாரக் கருவிகளாகுமென்று அறிய வேண்டியது.”

“The happiness or suffering experienced by a soul (ஆன்மா) is reflected outwardly in its instruments of body, mind, etc. Therefore, it is only the individual soul which undergoes experiences of happiness or suffering. The body and mind are but instruments which help or enable the individual soul to experience and understand happiness and suffering.”

The import of these observations is clear. The individual soul is the self or subject which undergoes and knows experiences of happiness and suffering. The body and its senses, the mind, the means of cognition, etc.,  are but instruments which enable a soul to undergo and understand diverse experiences of pain and pleasure, happiness and suffering. The individual soul’s experiences of grief, happiness, etc., are reflected in its instruments of body and mind. The body, the mind, etc., constitute a house, built by God,  for the soul to inhabit and lead a sentient existence.

Thus, the distinction between the soul and the body is essentially a distinction between an agent who undergoes experiences, knows, wills, and acts, and the means or instrument which enables that agent to undergo experiences, gain knowledge, exercise volition, and perform actions.

March 3, 2013

“Buddhist” Monks of Sri Lanka In Defense of War Crimes!

Sri Lankan Buddhist monks protest against UN human rights resolution proposed by US

These Sri Lankan “Buddhist” monks are exactly like the monks of the “Zen Buddhist” establishment in Japan who supported Japanese militarism, and its heinous war crimes against civilian populations in Asia in WWII, e.g., the well-documented Nanjing atrocities by the War Criminal Japanese Imperial Army, and offered specious appeals to “Zen Buddhist” doctrines to justify that militarism and its heinous war crimes.

Nanjing (China) Massacre victims of the War Criminal Japanese Imperial Army on the shore of the Yangtze River with a Japanese soldier standing nearby.

These ignorant and hypocritical Sri Lankan “Buddhist” monks, like their Japanese “Zen Buddhist” monk counterparts in WWII, have forgotten that the ethical principles of “Buddha Dhamma” take priority over irrational forms of patriotism and nationalism.

They have also conveniently and fatally forgotten the Buddhist emphasis on the relentless wheel of “Kamma”, in accordance with whose turnings, those who committed or supported war crimes will inevitably reap the consequences of their deeds in just the way the war criminal Japanese military establishment did in WWII.

Sri Lankan Buddhist monks protest against UN human rights resolution proposed by US
By Associated Press, The Washington Post
14 March 2012
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Hundreds of Buddhist monks on Wednesday marched in Sri Lanka’s capital to urge the United States to withdraw its support for a proposed U.N. rights body resolution on alleged abuses during the country’s civil war.
The monks blocked traffic on a main road as they marched from a Buddhist temple to the U.S. Embassy. Five were allowed to enter the building and deliver a letter that called on the U.S. not to “inconvenience and embarrass” Sri Lanka.
( Gemunu Amarasinghe / Associated Press ) – Buddhist monks, supporters of the government, march towards the U.S. Embassy, to urge the United States to withdraw its support for a proposed U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on alleged abuses during the country’s civil war, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, March 14, 2012. The U.N. rights body in Geneva is expected to vote next week on the resolution, which calls on Sri Lanka to investigate allegations of abuses by both government troops and ethnic rebels in the final months of the war in 2009.
Sri Lanka’s government has organized protests against the proposed resolution, which calls on Sri Lanka to investigate allegations of abuses by both government troops and ethnic Tamil rebels in the final months of the war in 2009. The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva is expected to vote on it next week.
According to a U.N. report, tens of thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians may have been killed in the final months of the 25-year civil war. It said most of the deaths occurred due to shell fire by government forces.
The government has rejected the report and its own reconciliation commission has cleared the military of deliberately targeting civilians.
The United States says that commission did not address some of the main abuse allegations and has introduced the draft resolution in the U.N. rights council calling for them to be investigated.
Meanwhile, India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said Wednesday that his country hopes its Sri Lankan neighbor “acts decisively and with vision” toward reconciliation with minority Tamils by continuing power sharing talks.
The Indian government has been under pressure from lawmakers, largely from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, home to some 60 million Tamils, to support the proposed resolution at the rights council.
Krishna however said that a decision will be taken only after the resolution is tabled and discussed.
India was a strong backer of Sri Lanka’s military campaign to defeat Tamil Tiger rebels after a failed military intervention in 1987.
Copyright 2012 The Washington Post

March 3, 2013

Regimes of Cruelty: “Buddhist” Sri Lanka’s War Crimes Against Tamils (1)

Tamil Civilians Slaughtered By the War Criminal Sri Lankan Army, January – April 2009

Tamil girls lamenting the slaughter of their family members by the War Criminal Sri Lankan Army (Jan – April 2009)

“…What happened in Sri Lanka was a major Rwanda-like atrocity, in a different scale, where the West didn’t care. There was plenty of early warning. This [conflict] has been going on for years and decades. Plenty of things could have been done [to prevent it]. But there was not enough interest.”

(Noam Chomsky at a 2009 United Nations forum on R2P, the Responsibility to Protect doctrine established by the UN in 2005)

Cruelty is the intentional and avoidable infliction of harm and suffering on sentient beings. In the ethics of Suddha Sanmargam, cruelty is paradigmatic of what is morally wrong and evil.

Further, in Suddha Sanmargam, the prevalence of cruelty in nature and human societies is explained in terms of the ignorance of the truth of soul-kinship (the fact that another sentient being is an embodied soul similar to oneself in terms of its basic origin, nature, and predicament) and its instantiation in the form of the biological truth of the common origin, kinship, nature, and predicament of all life.

The moral laws of compassion and the laws of Karma established by ARUTPERUMJOTHI have their foundations in this truth of soul-kinship and constitute the means of bringing about its realization in சீவர்கள் or embodied souls. I will elaborate in future posts on these central truths of Suddha Sanmargam.

Suddha Sanmargam holds that starvation, torture, and murder are the worst harms which can befall சீவர்கள் (Seevargal), or sentient beings, or embodied souls. When சீவர்கள் inflict such harms on other sentient and embodied beings, or when, despite having the requisite knowledge and capability,  they fail to prevent, alleviate, or terminate such harms which threaten or befall other sentient beings, they violate ARUTPERUMJOTHI’S commandments of compassion designed to regulate the conduct of சீவர்கள் toward one another.

As a consequence, they are subject to the unerring operations of the laws of karma instituted by ARUTPERUMJOTHI for the purpose of bringing about a moral transformation in the nature and conduct of such சீவர்கள் or embodied souls, a moral transformation wrought on the anvil of suffering in a variety of forms.

The hearts and egos of such சீவர்கள் hardened by indulgence in cruelty toward their own soul-kin are eventually softened and transformed only by an enforced sojourn in the vale of intense suffering.

In addition, such instances of suffering, whether caused by moral evil in the form of violations of the commandments of compassion, or by violations of the laws of nature, or by lack of caution in one’s actions, are a necessary condition of the development of compassion, a sine qua non, according to Suddha Sanmargam, of enlightenment or liberation. This is because compassion is, in its very nature, directed toward the prevention, alleviation, or termination of suffering.

Hence, the occurrence and reality of various forms of suffering is required for the exercise and development of compassion, a sine qua non of liberation or enlightenment.

But all this does not justify indifference or inaction toward the suffering of others on the grounds that such suffering is a consequence of their own bad Karma stemming from their violations of the moral laws of compassion, failure to act in accordance with the laws of nature, or foolhardiness or lack of caution in their actions.

Indeed, this form of indifference or inaction, regardless of the accompanying specious attempt to justify it by appealing to the bad Karma of the victims, is simply another form of cruelty!

Further, the cause of suffering is irrelevant to the commandments or requirements of compassion to alleviate and/or terminate the suffering.

If I suffer from burns due to foolhardiness or lack of caution in handling flammable material, or if I am afflicted with leprosy due to bad karma, this is irrelevant to the moral requirement of compassion to provide medical assistance to me.

Hence, the fact that a sentient being suffers due to bad karma, failure to act in accordance with the laws and regularities of nature, or lack of caution, is irrelevant to the moral requirements of compassion.

Therefore, on the path of Suddha Sanmargam, there is a solemn moral obligation to refrain from cruelty, to do one’s very best in preventing, alleviating, or terminating cruelty, and, if necessary for these purposes, to document and highlight acts of cruelty.

In light of this obligation, I wish to make a very small contribution by way of drawing attention, in this blog devoted to Suddha Sanmargam, to the crimes of cruelty against the Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka, perpetrated with pathological impunity and callousness on the world stage in the 21st century, by the Sri Lankan government and military.

It is worth noting that the brutal Sri Lankan military receives considerable assistance and training from the Israeli Defense Forces, an equal partner in perpetrating heinous acts of cruelty on defenseless civilian populations in the Palestinian territories and beyond.

Indeed, the tactic adopted by the Sri Lankan government and military of attempting to ensure that there were no international observers in or near its killing fields, by targeting such observers and their locations or fields of operation, is reminiscent of the hoary tactics of the War Criminal IDF in the occupied Palestinian territories and in its invasions of Lebanon.

Israeli built Kfir plane used by Sri Lankan Air Force. Photo: Wikipedia.

India, Sri Lanka’s pathetic and morally paralyzed neighbor which harbors delusions of moral superiority in international affairs, also bears considerable moral responsibility for supporting the Sri Lankan government and military in this conflict and turning a blind eye to the latter’s horrendous war crimes against the Tamil-speaking civilian population in the areas of conflict with the Tamil Tigers in 2009 in the Northern territories of Sri Lanka.

It should be noted in this context that the vast majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka are the descendants of the Tamils who migrated from India to Sri Lanka as early as 2nd century CE, a fact supported by the evidence of the discovery of potsherds with Tamil writing dated 1st – 2nd century CE in Poonakari, just below the Jaffna peninsula, in Northern Sri Lanka.

The U.N. (which to its shame is yet to order an international probe into the war crimes of Sri Lanka’s government and military) and the world’s major powers, e.g., USA, Canada, European nations, Russia, China, and Japan also bear responsibility for failing to organize a humanitarian intervention, or any other means necessary, to prevent the mass slaughter of the Tamil-speaking civilians in the areas of conflict in Northern Sri Lanka.

But, of course, it is a truism of Realpolitik that these world powers hold the U.N. captive to their Chimpanzee-style politics and intervene only when their own sordid and petty economic and/or strategic interests, or interests of criminal hegemony, are at stake and rarely on grounds which are only morally compelling.

A recent documentary, by the award-winning film maker and journalist Callum Macrae, on the war crimes of the Sri Lankan military, titled “No Fire Zone – The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” presents graphic and compelling evidence for the following truths:

http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/killing-fields-sri-lanka-film-trailer

The treacherous “No Fire Zone” set up by the Sri Lankan government and military in January 2009 in the Tamil territories in Northern Sri Lanka served as a cruel trap for hundreds of thousands of civilians who flooded into the area in the hopes of finding a safe haven. This area was brutally and indiscriminately shelled by the Sri Lankan military, resulting, according to U.N. estimates, in the killings of some 40,000 – 70,000 Tamils.

Macrae’s documentary shows the decapitated and bloodied bodies of men, women, and children strewn all over the treacherous “No Fire Zone”. This is assuredly the way of Ravana, the legendary demon-king of Lanka vanquished by Lord Rama in the Hindu epic Ramayana, and not the way of the Buddha!

A salient truth pointed out by a U.N. worker, Peter Mackay, who was trapped for two weeks in this vicious and cruel farce of “No Fire Zone”, is the fact that the Sri Lankan military set up the zone within the range of all of their artillery.

Why would they do this if their goal was in truth to provide a safe haven to Tamil civilians fleeing from the conflict? According to Mackay, in reality, the Sri Lankan army was actively targeting these defenseless Tamil civilians in their so-called “No Fire Zone”.

If this is not a case of premeditated slaughter of defenseless civilians based on their ethnicity, and, therefore, a clear case of a war crime and crime against humanity, I wonder what could possibly count as one.

The documentary also describes the shelling of aid-centres and make-shift hospitals after the UN or Red Cross workers informed the Sri Lankan military, in accordance with standard practice, of their locations.

There is footage showing parents wailing over their dying and dead children.

Video footage or images provided by the Sri Lankan soldiers, the true sons of the demon-king Ravana, show a Tamil Tiger commander interrogated and then tortured and killed, his mutilated body in the dirt; those who had surrendered, or been captured, bound, blindfolded,  and executed in cold blood; naked bodies of dead Tamil women, who show evident signs of physical and sexual abuse, filmed and accompanied by degrading comments by the onlooking Sri Lankan soldiers, and on and on. The catalogue reeks of all that has gone terribly wrong in the human condition.

SHAME ON SRI LANKA! SHAME ON INDIA! SHAME ON THE U.N. ! SHAME ON THE WORLD POWERS ! SHAME ON HUMANITY!

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