Archive for ‘Suddha Sanmargam’

May 6, 2018

The Letters of Ramalingam (2)

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A letter from Ramalingam dated April 25, 1865, addressed in his own handwriting to his long-time friend Irukkam Rathina Mudaliyaar in Chennai.

 

Letter # 2 (May 31, 1858)

Ramalingam’s second letter to Irukkam Rathina Mudaliyar (IRM), available in the collection of his letters published in 1932 by A. Balakrishna Pillai, is dated May 31, 1858.

It begins with an expression of good wishes from Ramalingam for long life and all-round prosperity (சகல சம்பத்து) to IRM.

This is followed by a remarkable request from Ramalingam:

“இந்தக் கடிதம் கொண்டு வருகிற சி. குமாரசாமி பிள்ளை படிக்க வேண்டுமென்று விரும்பியிருக்கிறபடியால், அவனுக்கு எந்த விதத்தில் படிப்பித்தால் படிப்பு வருமோ அந்த விதத்தில் படிப்பிக்க வேண்டும். சிரஞ்சீவி நமசிவாயத்துக்கும் இதுவே.”

“Since the bearer of this letter, C. Kumarasami Pillai, is coming there (Chennai, where IRM resided during this period) with the desire to pursue his education, he should be encouraged to learn in the manner which facilitates his progress in his studies. Siranjeevi Namasivayam should also be encouraged in the same way.”

In a note added to this letter, and addressed to the newlywed Muruga Pillai, Ramalingam writes again that:

“சிரஞ்சீவி குமாரசாமி அவ்விடம் வருகிறபடியால் அவனுக்கு படிப்பும் முயற்சியும் ஊதியமும் உண்டாகின்ற வகை எவ்வகை – அவ்வகை ஆராய்ந்து கூட்ட வேண்டும்.”

“Since Siranjeevi Kumarasami is coming there (Chennai), investigate (ஆராய்ந்து) and determine the manner in which his effort, learning, and gain may be augmented and implement it.”

In other words, Ramalingam advocated student-centered learning in 1858! I think his early experiences with mechanical and mind-numbing rote-learning in the formal educational system of his day (which still persists in the Indian educational system) certainly shaped his emphasis on student-centered learning. Ramalingam quit school in childhood and was a precocious autodidact in many branches of learning, including Tamil grammar, Tamil poetry, philosophy, herbology, and architecture (he designed the simple and exquisite structure of the Sathiya Gnana Sabhai or the Hall of Truth-Knowledge).

In his note to the newlywed Muruga Pillai, Ramalingam also provides sage advice on the life of a householder in the world:

“பழமை பாராட்டலும் கண்ணோட்டம் செய்தலும் சுற்றந் தழுவலும் அவசியம் சமுசாரிக்கு வேண்டும் என்பது நீ மாத்திரம் அடிக்கடி கவனிக்க வேண்டும்.”

“Observance and appreciation of customs (பழமை பாராட்டல்), discernment and consideration (கண்ணோட்டம்), and cultivating the company of relatives and friends (சுற்றத்தார் தழுவுதல்) are essential for a householder and you must foster them consistently.”

Letter # 3 (தை – Jan-Feb (probably 1859 or 1860)

The third letter addressed to IRM is undated except for the Tamil month (தை – Jan- Feb). It was probably written in 1859 or 1860 and contains important spiritual instructions. Ramalingam inscribes the words “this is confidential” (இது ரகசியம்) at the top of this letter and reiterates at the end that it should not be read to others.

It begins characteristically with praise for (I think it is a truncated exhortation to cultivate or develop the specified virtues) the virtues of IRM – love, intelligence, compassion, and ethical conduct – and invokes the supreme being Sivam to graciously confer on him and foster spiritual knowledge, long life, and சிந்தித மனோரத சித்தி or the attainment of  the ability to execute his intentions and realize his heart’s desires.

Ramalingam writes that in accordance with the request made by IRM in previous letters, he is going to offer some spiritual instructions in the sacred presence of Sivam (சிவ சந்நிதான சாட்சி), the deity of pure intelligence and goodness:

“பிர்ம விஷ்ணு ருத்திராதிகளுடைய பதங்களும் அந்தக் கர்த்தாக்களும் அவர்களால் சிருட்டி திதி சங்காரம் செய்யப்பட்டு வருகிற தேகாதி பிரபஞ்சங்களும் அனித்தியம்”

“Brahmas (godheads of creation), Vishnus (godheads of protection), and Rudras (godheads of destruction), their abodes, and the universes and bodies created, preserved, and destroyed respectively by them are impermanent.”

Note: In a striking departure from the popular Hindu view, Ramalingam mentions a plurality of these three types of godheads. In his magnum opus, Arutperumjothi Agaval, he also refers to innumerable cosmic rulers (தலைவர்கள்) who wield superhuman powers of creation, protection, destruction, concealment, and revelation in relation to countless universes and worlds.

“ஆகலில் – நித்தியமாகியும் என்றும் ஒரு தன்மை யுள்ளதாகியும் சச்சிதானந்த வடிவமாகியும் அகண்ட பரிபூரண வஸ்துவாகியும் விளங்கிய சிவமே நமக்குப்பொருள்.”

“Hence, Sivam who is the eternal being, whose essential nature does not undergo any change, who has the form of Satchidananda or absolute being-consciousness-bliss, who is the all-pervasive, whole or indivisible, and immaculate complete substance is the only ultimate reality or truth for us.

Note: Even in 1859 or 1860, Ramalingam’s understanding of the nature of Sivam makes it clear that he is not referring to the anthropomorphic deity of popular Saivism, the person with matted hair, serpents coiled around his neck, etc.

“அன்றியும், தாய் தந்தை குரு தெய்வம் சிநேகர் உறவினர் முதலியவர்களும் மேற்குறித்த சிவத்தின் திருவருளேயல்லது வேறில்லை.”

“Father, mother, teacher, tutelary deity, friend, relation, and so forth are all only manifestations or forms of this selfsame Sivam’s grace.”

“நாம் பல சனனங்களையுந் தப்பி மேலான இந்த மனிதப் பிறவி யெடுத்தது சிவத்தின் திருவருளைப் பெறுவதற்கே. எவ்வகைப் பிராயாசத்தினாலாவது அந்த அருளை அடைய வேண்டும்.”

“We have averted many lower forms of embodiment and attained this higher human embodiment, or embodiment in human form, only to obtain Sivam’s grace. We must obtain this grace by any endeavor or effort.”

“அந்த அருள் எவ்வகையால் வருமென்றால் – எல்லாவுயிர்களிடத்திலும் தயவும் பிரபஞ்சத்தில் வெறுப்பும் சிவத்தினிடத்தில் அன்பும் மாறாது நம்மிடத்திருந்தால் அவ்வருள் நம்மையடையும். நாமும் அதனையடைந்து எதிரற்ற சுகத்திலிருப்போம். இது சத்தியம்.”

“This grace can be obtained by the constant practice of compassion for all living beings, aversion to, and detachment from, the world,  and love of Sivam, the supreme being. We will then attain permanent bliss. This is the truth.”

“இனி மேற்குறித்த சாதனத்தை நாம் பெறுவதற்கு சிவபஞ்சாக்ஷரத் தியானமே முக்கிய காரணமாக இருக்கிறது. ஆகலில், இடைவிடாது நல்ல மனத்தோடு அதனை தியானிக்க வேண்டும்.”

“The above-mentioned spiritual practice is sustained by the constant contemplation of the Siva Panchaakshara mantra (Om Namah Sivaaya). This mantra must be contemplated with a good or purified mind.”

Note: Again, it is important to bear in mind Ramalingam’s account of the nature of Sivam, the Deity of the Siva Panchaakshara mantra: the eternal being (நித்தியம்),  One whose essential nature does not undergo any change (என்றும் ஒரு தன்மை உள்ளது),  One who has the form of Satchidananda or absolute being-consciousness-bliss (சச்சிதானந்த வடிவம்), and One who is the all-pervasive, whole or indivisible, and immaculate complete substance (அகண்ட பரிபுரண வஸ்து). It is also important to note that Ramalingam wrote these instructions more than a decade before his final enlightenment and his realization of the ultimate mantra which reveals Arutperumjothi or the Immense Light of Compassion. After his enlightenment, and particularly in his last talk delivered in October 1873, Ramalingam emphasized that the mantra of Arutperumjothi superseded all other mantras.

“அதனையிதனடியில் குறிக்கின்றேன். இதனைக் கண்டு தியானித்து வந்தால் பின்பு எல்லாம் விளங்கும்.”

“The Siva Panchaakshara mantra must be contemplated in conjunction with the following lines (of Tamil devotional poetry). This will result in enlightenment or the illumination of everything.”

“நானேயோ தவஞ்செய்தேன் சிவாயநம எனப்பெற்றேன்”

nāṉēyō tavañceytēṉ
civāyanama eṉappeṟṟēṉ

“What austerities and other spiritual practices could I have performed in past lives to obtain the mantra சிவாயநம (Sivaaya Namah) in this life?”

சிவாய நமவென்று  சிந்தித்து இருப்பார்க்கு அபாயம் ஒருநாளும் இல்லை

“To those who remain steadfast in the contemplation of “Sivaaya Namah”, there is no danger, misfortune, or calamity, on any day.”

நான் செய்த புண்ணியம் யாதோ சிவாயநம வெனவே, ஊன் செய்த நாவைக்கொண் டோதப்பெற்றேன்

“I do not know what good deeds performed in past lives have enabled me now to recite “Sivaaya Namah” with a tongue made of corruptible flesh!”

Note: Ramalingam’s first quotation is from a poem in one of the great works of Tamil spiritual poetry, and indeed world devotional poetry, the Thiruvaasagam (திருவாசகம்), composed by the 9th-century Tamil mystic poet Maanikkavaasagar. The rest of the poem is as follows. Its import is that Sivam, the being of bliss who is of the essence of the sweetness of honey and ambrosia, deigned to come on his own accord, and, entering the heart of the poet, conferred his grace, and made him averse to a life based on identification with the body. As a result of this act of grace by Sivam, the poet is left wondering “What austerities and other spiritual practices could I have performed in past lives to obtain the mantra சிவாயநம (Sivaaya Namah) in this life?”.

 

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The statue of Maanikkavaasagar holding a palm leaf on which is inscribed “Om Namah Sivaaya”, the mantra of Sivam, the supreme being

 

“நானேயோ தவஞ்செய்தேன்
சிவாயநம எனப்பெற்றேன்
தேனாய்இன் அமுதமுமாய்த்
தித்திக்குஞ் சிவபெருமான்
தானேவந் தெனதுள்ளம்
புகுந்தடியேற் கருள்செய்தான்
ஊனாரும் உயிர்வாழ்க்கை
ஒறுத்தன்றே வெறுத்திடவே.” (திருவாசகம்-திருவேசறவு)

Ramalingam’s second quotation is from a poem attributed to the legendary Tamil woman poet Avvaiyaar ( 1 – 2nd century CE) who lived in the Sangam epoch or the golden age of Tamil poetry. Her dictum on learning “கற்றது கைமண் அளவு, கல்லாதது உலகளவு  (The extent of what one knows is a handful, but the extent of what remains to be known is as vast as the world) is exhibited at NASA. Historians of Tamil literature have pointed out that there were later Tamil women poets with the same name.

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The statue of Avvaiyaar (1 – 2nd century CE) in Marina Beach, Chennai, India

The meaning of the following poem # 15 in the work ” நல்வழி” (“The Way to the Good”), attributed to Avvaiyaar, from which Ramalingam’s quotation is drawn, is that for those who remain steadfast in the contemplation of “Sivaaya Namah”, there is no danger, misfortune, or calamity, on any day. This strategy ( உபாயம்) of remaining steadfast in the contemplaton of Sivam, the supreme being, is the essence of the discernment (மதி) which overcomes fate (விதி). Any other strategy is only a ruse of destiny or fate itself.

சிவாய நமவென்று சிந்தித்து இருப்பார்க்கு

அபாயம் ஒருநாளும் இல்லைஉபாயம்

இதுவே மதியாகும் அல்லாத எல்லாம்

விதியே மதியாய் விடும்.

– நல்வழி 15 – ஔவையார்

Ramalingam’s last quotation is from one of his own poems. The import is that he does not know what good deeds performed in past lives have enabled him now to recite “Sivaaya Namah” (the mantra of Sivam, the supreme being) with a tongue made of corruptible flesh when it is rare even for the godheads and gods to obtain this good fortune!

நான்செய்த புண்ணியம் யாதோ சிவாய நமவெனவே
ஊன்செய்த நாவைக்கொண் டோதப்பெற் றேன் எனை ஒப்பவரார்
வான்செய்த நான்முகத் தோனும் திருநெடு மாலுமற்றைத்
தேன்செய்த கற்பகத் தேவனும் தேவருஞ் செய்யரிதே.
__ திருஅருட்பா 2260

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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April 28, 2018

The Last Talk of Ramalingam (1)

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"Siddhi Valaagam",  or the  "Abode of Adepthood"

Ramalingam’s last talk was delivered to his associates in the small cottage of “Siddhi Valaagam” or “Abode of Adepthood” in the village of Mettukuppam, near the town of Vadalur, Tamilnadu, Southern India, on October 21, 1873. The notes of this talk, taken by an anonymous attendee, and later published in the early editions of Ramalingam’s writings, constitute the sole available record of this talk. Although it is garbled in places, these notes are a very important source of Ramalingam’s final message before his passing from the ken of mortals in January 1874.

The last talk of Ramalingam was given on the occasion of raising the dual-colored flag of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam outside the Siddhi Valaagam on October 21, 1873.

The flag has yellow at the top and white at the bottom. It was raised to signal the advent of the age of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam, an age constituted by the progressive global acknowledgment and implementation of its fundamental principles and values, e.g., human unity, the rejection of division and discrimination based on caste, religion, gender, and nationality, the concern for the well-being of non-human life, including plant life, the rejection of religious fundamentalism, sectarianism, and fanaticism, the abolition of hunger and torture, and the amelioration of poverty.

The notes suggest that Ramalingam had explained the symbolism of the flag in terms of the colors of a membrane in the location of the forehead “chakra” or the center of spiritual perception located between the eyebrows. Apparently, he had said that these colors are visible to the inner eye in spiritual experience. Be that as it may, we should take note that white and yellow constitute the two ends of the spectrum of fundamental colors mentioned by Ramalingam in his great tetralogy of “True Supplications of Suddha Sanmargam”,  or the four great petitions (Tamil: விண்ணப்பம்) to Arutperumjothi or the Immense Light of Compassion. Ramalingam’s theory of colors is worth discussing in a separate series of posts.

White could also symbolize the “Chitsabhai” (Tamil: சிற்சபை) or the “Hall of Consciousness” within every soul, and yellow could symbolize the “Porsabhai” (Tamil: பொற்சபை) or the “Golden Hall”, the immaculate, incomparable, transcendent “hall”, or “space” beyond all things, in which Arutperumjothi abides forever.

As I pointed out earlier, some of the points in the notes of this last talk are evidently garbled and even incoherent, e.g., the claims on the nature and order of the colored Screens which block the individual soul’s perception of different aspects of reality. Therefore, we must use the standard of consistency with the central authentic writings of Ramalingam, e.g., the four great petitions or the tetralogy of Supplications of Suddha Sanmargam, the Essay on Compassion for Living Beings, and his magnum opus, Arutperumjothi Agaval or the Song of Divine Light, to sift through the contents of these notes.

Here are the results of this process of sifting through the notes of his last talk in terms of the specified standard.

The talk begins with an advice, or perhaps, even an admonition, to his associates not to continue to waste their precious time and span of life. Ramalingam goes on to emphasize the importance of devoting their precious time to intensive inquiry (Tamil: விசாரணை).

He clarifies the nature of this intensive inquiry. It is concerned with understanding the nature and condition of the individual self or soul and the divine nature and condition of the Deity or Supreme Being (Tamil: தெய்வம்) which excels individual selves or souls.

He points out that this intensive inquiry can be undertaken individually or in association with others.

He also mentions his former Tamil poetry student and long-time associate, Thozhuvoor Velayuda Mudaliyar (who wrote, despite his long association with Ramalingam, a cursory and inadequate reminiscence of the latter which was published in the official journal of the Theosophical Society), and says that they could also consult with TVM in the pursuit of their inquiry.

It is intriguing that, according to the notes, Ramalingam said that TVM would facilitate their inquiry in human terms or in terms sufficient for human intelligence or understanding. This suggests that Ramalingam had transcended human intelligence or understanding. There are other passages in these notes indicating that Ramalingam had said that he had attained cosmic consciousness.

see_explanation-_clicking_on_the_picture_will_download_the_highest_resolution_version_available

It is remarkable that Ramalingam elucidates this inquiry in terms of what he designates in Tamil “அண்ட விசாரம்“, or inquiry into the nature of the cosmos and “பிண்ட விசாரம்”, or inquiry into the nature of living bodies, particularly the human body. In other words, the intensive inquiry he emphasizes also includes cosmology and biology, particularly human biology. In fact, Ramalingam states that “அண்ட விசாரம்” or cosmological inquiry consists in the inquiry into the சொரூபம் (essential structure), ரூபம் (form and beauty of form), and சுபாவம் (inherent tendencies or dispositions) of our Sun, the moon, the stars, and other cosmic phenomena.

220px-da_vinci_vitruve_luc_viatour

“Vitruvian Man” by Leonardo da Vinci – the Roman author and architect Vitruvius celebrated the geometrical proportionality of the human body

“பிண்ட விசாரம்” or biological/physiological inquiry consists in pursuing questions such as “What is the nature of the self or agent in this body?”, “Why do the parts of our human bodies have their respective features? For instance, why does hair grow in other parts of the human body, but not on the forehead (eyebrows excepted)?”,  “What processes determine the growth of nails on fingers and toes?”, and so forth.

The notes indicate that Ramalingam pointed out that this intensive inquiry into the nature of the individual self or soul, the divine nature of the Deity or Supreme Being, the nature of cosmic phenomena, and the nature of biological phenomena, notably the human body, will remove the first, dense Screen which hides the manifold aspects of  the divine reality and divine governance of the cosmos from the soul’s perception or understanding.

However, the notes seem garbled in their account of the color of this first, dense Screen. It is mentioned that the color of this Screen is green, but this must be a mistake because in Ramalingam’s remarkable account, given in his magnum opus Arutperumjothi Agaval or Song of Divine Light, of the colored Cosmic Screens which hide the manifold aspects of  mundane, supramundane, and divine reality from the soul’s perception or understanding, the first, immense,  and dense cosmic Screen is black in color. It represents “மாமாயை”,  “Mahamaya” or vast, primeval matter, and hides the divine governance and foundation of the cosmos.

mark20rothko20no-201201964

Mark Rothko, Black-form paintings, No. 1, 1964

 

As the Arutperumjothi Agaval puts it:

கரைவின்மா மாயைக் கரும்பெருந் திரையால்

அரைசது மறைக்கும் அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி

Translation: Arutperumjothi has hidden its  governance of the cosmos by means of the immense, dense, Black Screen of endless matter.

The cosmic green Screen is the third one and hides the “பரவெளி” or the Divine Space, the field of supramundane and divine entities and forces:

Space, Time, Motion, Green, 2010 (mixed media)

Space, Time, Motion, Green (Homage to Mark Rothko) by Izabella Godlewska de Aranda (2010)

பச்சைத் திரையாற் பரவெளி யதனை

அச்சுற மறைக்கும் அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி

Translation: “Arutperunjothi has, in an awe-inspiring manner, hidden the Supramundane Divine Space by means of the Green Screen.

In a later post, I will elucidate Ramalingam’s remarkable account of the different colored Cosmic Screens by which Arutperumjothi hides the manifold aspects of  mundane, supramundane, and divine reality from the ego-bound individual soul’s perception and understanding.

Arutperumjothi also graciously lifts or sets aside these Screens, commensurate with the soul’s effort to liberate itself from the threefold defilement and bondage of ஆணவம், or egoism, or the disposition to assert separation and independence from the Supreme Being, மாயை, or “Maya“, the identification with,  and consequent subjection to, matter or physical body, and கன்மம், or Karma, or the chain of cause and effect involving its thoughts, desires, choices, actions, and their consequences.

 

 

 

 

 

April 13, 2018

The Letters of Ramalingam (1)

swami-ramalinga-vallalar

A letter from Ramalingam dated April 25, 1865, addressed in his own handwriting to his long-time friend Irukkam Rathina Mudaliyaar in Chennai.

Fortunately, a collection of letters from Chidambaram Ramalingam (1823 – 1874) is available to us. It was included in the magisterial 12-volume edition of Ramalingam’s prose and poetry published by the pioneering teacher and scholar A. Balakrishna Pillai (1890 – 1960) in the years 1931 – 1958. A volume of Ramalingam’s letters, announcements, and instructions for the maintenance of the Sathiya Gnana Sabhai (Hall of  Truth-Knowledge) and the Sathiya Dharma Saalai (House of True Charity) was published by Balakrishna Pillai in 1932. In this thread of posts on Ramalingam’s letters, I will be providing English translations of excerpts from the letters originally published in this volume.

Ramalingam’s letters are succinct and eschew ostentatious or pretentious rhetoric. He uses the Tamil language in a literate and formal, but also humane and solicitous style. It is noteworthy that his letters characteristically begin with a mode of address which praises the virtues of the recipient and invokes the Deity (சிவம் or Sivam, the Supreme Being who is Pure Intelligence) to bestow long life and other blessings on the recipient.

In fact, Ramalingam always addressed his recipients with the blessing prefix “Siranjeevi” (Tamil: சிரஞ்சீவி) which means “long-living” or “long-lived”. In Tamil usage, it is prefixed to the names of males. For unmarried or married females, the blessing prefix is “saubhāgyavatī” (Tamil: சௌபாக்கியவதி) which means “recipient of good fortune”.

For instance, an early letter to Irukkam Rathina Mudaliyaar sent sometime in 1858 begins as follows:

To Siranjeevi Rathina Mudaliyaar who excels in virtues such as conduct in accordance with compassionate intelligence, may the grace of Sivam bestow on you long life and all forms of prosperity! I wish to hear from you frequently about good deeds and auspicious events in your life.”

Ramalingam goes on, in this letter, to inquire anxiously about the health of one Nayakkar, and asks Irukkam Rathina Mudaliyaar (IRM) to inform Nayakkar that he intends to definitely visit Chennai in two to four months time. He also asks IRM to exercise vigilance in his daily life. This emphasis on vigilance in matters of daily life is a recurrent theme in Ramalingam’s letters to his friends.

This early letter to IRM concludes as follows:

“Siranjeevi Namasivaya Pillai has gone there (Chennai) to pursue his education. You may ascertain regularly his progress in his studies. I wish to hear soon about the well-being of yourself and Nayakkar. My mind is anxious on account of this concern. Therefore, you must let me know.”

I think Namasivaya Pillai was a relative of Ramalingam. Notice Ramalingam’s concern about his relative’s progress in education. It is also touching to note Ramalingam’s frank avowal of anxiety concerning the well-being of IRM and Nayakkar. In many of his letters to his friends, Ramalingam confesses his anxiety about their well-being, particularly in the case of absence of communication from them, or on hearing that they were subject to some adversity. It testifies to his great compassion and humanity even in these years (he was in his mid-thirties) before his முத்தி or enlightenment and attainment of சித்தி or adepthood in his late forties .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 21, 2018

Justice for a Cow: Ramalingam On Animal Rights (1)

swami-ramalinga-vallalar

 

Kamadhenu, or The Divine Cow of Plenitude With All Divinities In Its Body

 

Krishna as Gopala, or Protector of Cows, And His Bovine and Human Friends

 

Unspeakable Cruelty and Slaughter in a Slaughterhouse!

 

Sadistic Spanish Festival

The Toro Jubilo, Madrid, 2014. The “Toro Jubilo” or Toro embolado in Soria, Medinaceli, Spain, is a festival associated with animal cruelty. During this festival, balls of pitch are attached to a bull’s horns and set on fire. The bull is then released into the streets and can do nothing but run around in pain, often smashing into walls in an attempt to douse the fire. These fiery balls can burn for hours, and they burn the bull’s horns, body, and eyes – all while spectators cheer and run around the victim. The animal rights group PACMA has described the fiesta as “a clear example of animal mistreatment”, and PETA calls it “a sadistic festival”. (Wikipedia)

 

Ramalingam’s radical and revolutionary ethic of compassion with its extraordinary emphasis on moral consideration for non-human living beings, including trees and plants, was expressed in a preliminary form in his early (1854) prose work on the legend of King Manu and his moral code (again, this is not the King Manu of Hindu mythology who was allegedly the creator of cruel caste divisions and codes which were the bane of Indian society) and developed in his mature, but incomplete essay on the Ethic of Compassion for Living Beings.

Ramalingam’s work The Moral Code of Manu is the story of King Manu’s moral dilemma in the face of the death of a calf beneath the wheels of the chariot driven by his only son Prince Veedhividangan. The mother of the calf comes to the gates of the royal palace and pulls the bell rope meant to communicate to the king that some person has faced injustice in his domain and that they need his intervention. As a paragon of justice, king Manu is shocked to hear the bell ring and on inquiry comes to know that the mother of the calf crushed beneath the wheels of the chariot driven by his only son and prince rang the bell asking for justice to be served in the case of the unnatural death or killing of her calf.

Contrary to the claims of his ministers that the death of the calf was an accident or due to its fate, and that the prince should be absolved of responsibility for its death, king Manu determines that his son, prince Veedhividangan, is guilty of negligently causing the death of the calf.

Refuting the arguments of his ministers that the calf is only an animal and inferior to humans in intelligence and that the just punishment for the prince is to undergo the rigors of performing rites prescribed by scriptures to atone for the sin of killing the calf of a cow, king Manu decides that his only son and prince deserves punishment by death for taking the innocent calf’s life. His argument is based on the claim that there is equality of humans and animals concerning the right to life and that the death penalty is just punishment for the taking of life regardless of the fact that his prince is human and the victim a calf or animal.

The details of his argument are encapsulated in the following account of Ramalingam’s radical ethics of equal consideration of human and non-human life in the context of murder and/or suffering, an ethics first developed in 1854 in the work “The Moral Code of Manu” and expanded in his mature, but unfinished (1867) essay on “The Ethic of Compassion for Living Beings”.

In Ramalingam’s view, both human and non-human living beings are embodied souls with the same essential nature, i.e., sentient consciousness (Tamil: சித்து)  with its innate quality of intelligence (Tamil: அறிவு) and capacity to experience pleasure and pain.

He holds that the differences among living beings stem from their embodiment in different physical bodies, but that these differences in their physical bodies are irrelevant to the issue of moral consideration for them and that this consideration ought to be based only on their common essential nature, i.e., sentient consciousness with its innate quality of intelligence and capacity to experience pleasure and pain.

Since living beings have a common essential nature regardless of the differences in their corporeal or physical attributes, they also have common basic rights stemming from their common essential nature.

Ramalingam identifies two basic rights common to all living beings: the right to life and the right to freedom from pain or suffering.

How are these two basic rights derived from the common essential nature of living beings?

In his great incomplete essay on the Ethic of Compassion for Living Beings (composed in 1867 and first published in 1879), Ramalingam argues that a body (constituted of some form of substance) is needed for the soul to express and develop its innate attribute of intelligence.

It is an inherent tendency of  a soul to express and develop its innate quality of intelligence, to remove any obscuration or limitation in the expression and development of its intelligence when it becomes cognizant of it, as it invariably does after any temporary occlusion or obstruction of its intelligence.

Therefore, every soul requires and seeks embodiment to overcome a state of ignorance and to express and develop its innate intelligence. This tendency takes the characteristic form of a need to know and to grow in knowledge.

Ramalingam’s point is reminiscent of Aristotle’s dictum that “All men by nature desire to know”. Of course, it includes women (and it is noteworthy that, even in 19th century rural Tamilnadu, Ramalingam included women in his proposal for universal spiritual education and explicitly forbade discrimination on grounds of the physical attribute of sex or gender), but what is significant in Ramalingam’s account is its implication, confirmed by  scientific studies of non-human life, that all living beings have the inclination to know, an expression of their innate intelligence.

Aristotle gave a reason for his claim: the evidence that men take delight in sensory perception, particularly visual perception. This is also evident in other species. Indeed, the curiosity of non-human living beings about their environment often sharply contrasts with the apathy or sensory dullness of many humans!

Given that every living being is a soul capable of experiencing pain and pleasure, the innate intelligence impels it to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Embodiment gives the opportunity to experience a variety of pleasures or joys (Tamil: இன்பம்). These experiences of pleasure or joy augment the expression and development of intelligence and prepare the soul for the enjoyment of the supreme bliss of Arutperumjothi or the Ultimate Divine Light.

But embodiment also makes every soul vulnerable to pain or suffering in its manifold forms of hunger, fear, disease, torture, etc. However, its innate intelligence, a function of the indwelling Supreme Divine Light of Grace, guides it to find ways to avoid, alleviate, or overcome these forms of pain or suffering since they are an obstruction to the development of intelligence and the attainment of bliss or happiness, mundane and transcendental.

The essay on the Ethic of Compassion for Living Beings describes how these forms of suffering suppress the expression and development of the innate intelligence of the soul. I will discuss this claim in subsequent posts, but would like to point out that Ramalingam’s claim is consistent with the fact that the prospect of undergoing some form of pain or suffering can stimulate the innate intelligence to find ways to prevent, alleviate, or eliminate it. His claim is about the immediate effects of these major forms of pain or suffering, e.,g., hunger, murder, torture, disease, poverty, etc.

For any soul, murder is the loss of a body by an unnatural and cruel means. It inflicts on a soul the pain or suffering of being forcibly expelled from its bodily habitation and to face terrible fear and perplexity in the process. It is also faced with the additional suffering of undergoing the process of rebirth or embodiment in another form.

Every living being or embodied soul, i.e., an individual sentient consciousness seeking to express and develop its intelligence and with the capacity to experience pleasure and pain, requires a body to express and develop its intelligence. Therefore, every living being has the basic right to life or the right to keep or preserve its present body.

Hence, it is morally wrong to deprive any living being of its body by killing it and inflicting on it the twin sufferings of loss of  its present body and future rebirth in another body.

And the fact that every living being avoids pain or suffering supports the claim that every living being has the basic right to freedom from pain or suffering.

Hence, it is morally wrong to inflict pain or suffering, particularly in the form of infliction of torture, or loss of limb or organ essential for survival and quality of life, or disease, on any living being.

It follows that we must give equal moral consideration, without any partiality based on species membership, to human and non-human living beings in the context of any actual or imminent violation of the two fundamental rights, the right to life and the right to freedom from pain or suffering.

To the misguided objection that moral prescriptions cannot be derived from facts or factual claims, the simple reply is as follows:

The objection is misguided because it assumes that the only acceptable model of “derivation” must be deductivist, i.e., that the derivation must be a logical deduction from the facts. Logical deduction is not the only form of rational inference. And logical deduction is actually uninformative, i.e., it does not tell us anything new, anything not already contained in the premises. For instance, by logically deducing that “Socrates is mortal” from the premises “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man”, we are not deducing or imparting any new information not contained in those premises taken together.

Ramalingam’s derivation of the two fundamental rights from the relevant factual claims is a rational inference on the basis of good grounds or reasons.

If a living being requires a body for the development and expression of its intelligence, and it also avoids pain or suffering in order to preserve itself and develop its intelligence, then, unless it is shown that it is reasonable to ignore these central facts in the context of moral consideration for the living being, they constitute eminently good reasons for holding that it has the right to life and the right to freedom from pain or suffering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 18, 2018

The Early Ethic of Ramalingam (1): Moral Maxims in Manu’s Lament On Karma

swami-ramalinga-vallalar

 

Detail of Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (by Rembrandt, 1630)

 

An early and significant Tamil prose text of Ramalingam (1823 – 1874) is his Manu’s Moral Code (மனு முறைகண்ட வாசகம்/ Manu Murai Kanda Vasagam) written in eloquent and ornate Tamil and published in June 1854 when he was 31. King Manu, who is a central character in this literary work of fiction, must be distinguished from the legendary Hindu sage-ruler Manu, the alleged creator of cruel caste codes whose legacy has been the bane of Indian society for ages.

It is said that Ramalingam wrote his work of fiction Manu’s Moral Code to promote moral education and development, particularly the development of compassion, among the youth. It is also a seminal and radical work on the ethical treatment of animals since it expounds his central argument for the equality of animals and humans in regard to the right to life and the right to freedom from suffering, including freedom from torture.

In this post, I will focus on the moral proscriptions and prescriptions implicit in the section in Manu’s Moral Code in which King Manu laments his past bad karma, i.e., performance of morally wrong actions in previous lives, which has led to his present mental and moral agony over sentencing his only son to death for negligence in causing the death of a calf beneath the wheels of his chariot.

Manu’s lament takes the form of rhetorical questions on his past bad karma which could have caused his present mental and moral agony about a just decision on his son’s negligence in crushing a calf beneath the wheels of his chariot. Each of these rhetorical questions assumes a moral judgment which implies a moral proscription and prescription.

These moral proscriptions and prescriptions help us to understand and delineate Ramalingam’s early ethic. The moral proscriptions or prohibitions also identify behaviors bound to create bad karma and consequent suffering in this life or future rebirth.

The law of karma is a cornerstone of Ramalingam’s theism and ethics. In his “Ethic of Compassion For Living Beings“, Ramalingam invokes the law of karma to explain the fact that many living beings undergo suffering from hunger, fear, torture, murder, etc. He states that it is due to their violation of the requirements of compassion in previous lives. As I have pointed out in earlier posts, Ramalingam’s ethic of compassion is founded on the spiritual truth of the kinship of all living beings. Hence, by his own account, lack of compassion stems from ignorance of this spiritual truth of the kinship of all living beings.

He declares that the law of karma is a Divine Law designed to bring about the progressive emancipation of the soul from its bondage to spiritual ignorance, i.e., ignorance of the truth of soul-kinship of all beings.

The law of karma governs the “distribution” of suffering to souls in accordance with their own choices and actions. Inflicting or contributing to the infliction of suffering on other people and living beings is a violation of the spiritual law of soul-kinship and will invariably result in suffering to oneself in the present or future life.

The soul bound in the coils of spiritual ignorance, i.e., ignorance of the truth of soul-kinship, learns to make morally correct choices by undergoing the suffering brought about by its own morally wrong choices, choices based on its unfettered egoism, primarily its self-aggrandizing choices or actions which inflict harm or suffering on other beings. The practice of the ethic of compassion is the only medicine for the afflictions brought about by one’s own bad karma.

Ramalingam’s central principle of compassion is that it is morally wrong to inflict or contribute to the infliction of suffering on living beings. Hence, his ethic of compassion emphasizes the obligation (this is his proscriptive principle of compassion) to refrain from inflicting suffering, e.g., starvation, murder, torture, disease, poverty or scarcity of means of sustenance, etc., on other living beings and the obligation (this is his prescriptive principle of compassion) to prevent, alleviate, or remove these forms of suffering in other living beings when we have knowledge that they are undergoing these sufferings, or will undergo them, and the capability to prevent, alleviate, or remove them by any means at our disposal.

Each of the following “lamentations” of King Manu implies a proscription or prohibition and a prescription. For instance , when Manu laments that he may have caused, in his previous life, fear or terror in the minds of good people, and thereby invited his present mental and moral agony over sentencing his only son to death for the negligently causing  the death of a calf, the implied prohibition or proscription is on causing fear or terror in the minds of good people and the implied prescription is to act considerately or benevolently toward them.

I should point out in this context that, according to Ramalingam, both humans and animals are prone to suffer from fear and one must refrain from inflicting it on them unless it is necessary to prevent greater harms, e.g., murder, torture, and starvation. These would actually be cases in which one causes fear to bad or evil persons, i.e., those intent on bringing about the murder, or torture, or starvation of other living beings. In his mature work on the Ethic of Compassion (Jivakarunya Ozhukkam), Ramalingam holds that it is morally permissible to cause fear in wild animals to prevent them from harming other living beings, but that it is contrary to the requirements of compassion to kill them.

What is wrong with inflicting fear or terror on good people? It is obviously a case of cruelty toward good people. Since they are good people, to inflict the suffering of fear or terror on them is to inflict undeserved and, therefore, unjust suffering on them. Hence, it is also a case of injustice perpetrated on good people.

Ramalingam is implying that the moral character of persons ought to make an important difference to how we treat them and that we ought to particularly behave compassionately toward those with good moral character.

It is noteworthy that the prohibitions and implied prescriptions in Manu’s lamentations cover a wide range of moral contexts. The two main principles at work in these varying contexts are the principle of compassion and the principle of respect. I will discuss these matters in the next post.

Here, then, are the morally wrong actions mentioned by Manu in the lamentations on his past karma:

நல்லோர் மனத்தை நடுங்கச் செய்தேனோ!

causing fear or terror in the minds of good people

 

அன்புடையவர்க்குத் துன்பஞ் செய்தேனோ!

causing distress to those who love us

 

தானங் கொடுப்போரைத் தடுத்து நின்றேனோ!

preventing the charitable from giving to the needy

 

கலந்த சினேகரைக் கலகஞ் செய்தேனோ!

breaking up friendships by creating dissension or strife

 

மனமொத்த நட்புக்கு வஞ்சகஞ் செய்தேனோ!

betraying a true friend

 

கலங்கி யொளிந்தோரைக் காட்டிக்கொடுத்தேனோ!

betraying those who have gone into hiding out of fear or trepidation

 

ஆசைகாட்டி மோசஞ் செய்தேனோ!

deceiving others after luring or enticing them (with false promises)

 

குடிவரி யுயர்த்திக் கொள்ளை கொண்டேனோ!

raising the rent on tenants to amass profit

 

வேலையிட்டுக் கூலி குறைத்தேனோ!

exploitation of labor by increasing the amount of work and decreasing the wages

 

கல்லும் நெல்லும் கலந்து விற்றேனோ!

selling adulterated or corrupted products to gain profit

 

ஏழைகள் வயிறு எரியச் செய்தேனோ!

inflicting more hardship on the poor

 

பசித்தோர் முகத்தைப் பாராதிருந்தேனோ!

ignoring the hungry

 

இரப்போர்க்குப் பிச்சை இல்லையென்றேனோ!

refusing charity to beggars

 

தருமம் பாராது தண்டஞ் செய்தேனோ!

levying taxes or fines without regard to justice or benevolence

 

வலிய வழக்கிட்டு மானங் கெடுத்தேனோ!

gratuitously instigating litigation to cause loss of dignity or dishonor to others

 

மண்ணோரம் பேசி வாழ்வழித்தேனோ!

ruining others by slandering or defaming them

 

கோள் சொல்லிக் குடும்பங்  கலைத்தேனோ!

destroying a family by calumny, aspersion, backbiting, or tale-bearing

 

பொருளை இச்சித்துப் பொய் சொன்னேனோ!

lying from pecuniary motives or desires

 

களவு செய்வோர்க்கு உளவு சொன்னேனோ!

disclosing information to facilitate theft

 

உயிர்க்கொலை செய்வோர்க்கு உபகாரஞ் செய்தேனோ!

assisting those engaged in killing or murder

 

ஊன்சுவை யுண்டு உடல் வளர்த்தேனோ!

consuming meat to develop one’s body

 

கருப்பமழித்துக் களித்திருந்தேனோ!

causing or having an abortion to continue with sexual gratification

 

பக்ஷியைக் கூண்டில் பதைக்க அடைத்தேனோ!

confining birds in cages

 

கன்றுக்குப் பாலு‘ட்டாது கட்டிவைத்தேனோ!

depriving a calf of the milk of its mother

 

வெய்யிலுக் கொதுங்கும் விருக்ஷ மழித்தேனோ!

destroying trees which provide shade in the summer heat

 

பகைகொண்டு அயலோர் பயிரழித்தேனோ!

destroying the food crops of others for reasons of enmity

 

வரவுபோக் கொழிய வழியடைத்தேனோ!

blockade of a route to obstruct traffic

 

குடிக்கின்ற நீருள்ள குளந்துர்த்தேனோ!

destruction of a source of drinking water

 

பொதுமண்டபத்தைப் போயிடித்தேனோ!

destruction of a public shelter

 

ஆலயக் கதவை அடைத்து வைத்தேனோ!

forcing the closing of a place of worship

 

கற்பழிந்தவளைக் கலந்திருந்தேனோ!

consorting with the promiscuous

 

காவல் கொண்டிருந்த கன்னியை அழித்தேனோ!

violating a maiden or nun observing chastity

 

கணவன்வழி நிற்போரைக் கற்பழித்தேனோ!

violating a woman faithful to her husband

 

குருவை வணங்கக் கூசிநின்றேனோ!

being ashamed (out of pride or conceit) to bow before the Guru

 

குருவின் காணிக்கை கொடுக்க மறந்தேனோ!

forgetting to offer a donation to the Guru

 

கற்றவர் தம்மைக் கடுகடுத்தேனோ!

being irascible with the learned

 

பெரியோர் பாட்டிற் பிழைசொன்னேனோ!

being captious with the great

 

சிவனடியாரைச் சீறி வைதேனோ!

verbal abuse of the devotees of God

 

தவஞ் செய்வோரைத் தாழ்வு சொன்னேனோ!

berating those engaged in religious or spiritual practices

 

சுத்த ஞானிகளைத் து‘ஷணஞ் செய்தேனோ!

berating the truly wise

 

தந்தைதாய் மொழியைத் தள்ளி நடந்தேனோ!

disregarding the advice of parents

 

தெய்வ மிகழ்ந்து செருக்கடைந்தேனோ!

disparaging the Deity and growing in conceit

 

நட்டாற்றிற் கையை நழுவவிட்டேனோ!

negligence in critical situations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 2, 2015

Compassion As the Basis of Moral and Spiritual Order (1)

Compassion in action: an 18th-century Italian depiction of the Parable of the Good Samaritan: “The parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus and is mentioned in only one of the gospels of the New Testament. According to the Gospel of Luke (10:29–37) a traveller (who may or may not have been a Jew) is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead along the road. First a priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan comes by. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured man.” (Wikipedia)

In his great unfinished essay “The Ethic of Compassion for Sentient Beings“, Ramalingam holds that compassion is not only the basis of moral order, i.e., the prevalence of moral norms, in this world, but also the basis of spiritual order in the higher worlds:

In the absence of compassion, moral discernment and love will not emerge. When moral discernment and love do not emerge, consideration, cooperation, and unity will not be present. If consideration, cooperation, and unity are not present, then the strong will overwhelm the weak and the latter’s adherence to moral norms will be destroyed.

Eventually, due to arrogance and self-aggrandizement, any adherence to moral norms among the strong in their mutual relations will also be destroyed.

There is no moral order in places where wild beasts, such as lions and tigers, which are bereft of compassion, live. In just the same way, there will be no moral order in places where human beings bereft of compassion live.

Without compassion, divine grace will not manifest. Without divine grace, knowledge of ILC (Arutperumjothi or The Immense Light of Compassion) cannot be attained. Without knowledge of ILC, there is no attainment of the bliss of liberation from the shackles of ignorance-bound existence. And without the attainment of this bliss of liberation, there can be no spiritual order in the higher worlds.”

Wood carving of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. Liao China, 907-1125 (Wikipedia)

March 29, 2015

Mystical Experiences Of Soul-Kinship (1)

Soul-kinship or spiritual solidarity is an all-embracing and highest form of kinship or solidarity human consciousness is capable of attaining. It is a transcendent form of solidarity in contrast to transient and narrow forms of kinship or “solidarity” based on race, caste, class, clan, gender, species, nationality, ethnicity, or political or religious creed or cause.

Actually, these narrow and transient types of “solidarity” based on race, caste, class, etc., are truncated, rabid, and even pathological forms of group division and opposition among human beings.

Soul-kinship or spiritual solidarity is not a desiccated philosophical or religious abstraction, but a “living truth” and a “lived experience” which can be attained by rigorous intellectual, moral, and contemplative discipline.

This intellectual, moral, and spiritual discipline involves the arduous and progressive attenuation and dissolution of the sense of division and opposition between the self and other beings. It is complemented by the progressive accentuation and development of a sense of empathy, common ground, and unity with other beings.

Soul-kinship or spiritual solidarity is achieved by realizing that which already embraces and includes within the ambit of its unlimited and unconditioned being,  consciousness, and bliss, all the baffling diversity of entities and individuals in the cosmos, the one supreme reality or Arutperumjothi, which has taken, among other modes of existence, the mode of being the Immense Light of Incomparable Compassion.

Hence, any sense of division and opposition between the self and other beings is the main barrier to the realization of the all-embracing reality of Arutperumjothi.

As the great British academic turned yogi Krishna Prem (aka Ronald Nixon, 1898 – 1965) prescribes:

“At the same time care must be taken to guard against an egoistic pride, the besetting vice of the ordinary intellectual, who is only too prone to fancy himself a being apart and to look down on those struggling beneath him with a tolerant contempt saying, perhaps,

There is no better way

Than patient scorn, nor any help for man,

Nor any staying of his whirling wheel.

(The Light of Asia Or The Great Renunciation, Trans. Edwin Arnold)

The aspirant must therefore guard himself carefully against any tendency to separate himself from his fellows. This he can do only by an effort of imaginative sympathy. He must strive always to feel himself into the hearts of those he meets in his daily life, to see things from their point of view, to feel the impacts of events and particularly the impact of his own actions as they would feel them.

In this way he will learn to understand instead of blaming his fellow men, and will learn also that his enemies are not the villains that he previously supposed them to be but merely rather foolish people, prone to deceive themselves about their motives as is he himself. Training himself in this way, the aspirant gradually breaks down the barriers which separate him from his fellow beings and will acquire the power of thinking and acting in an unegotistic manner, for he will no longer concern himself solely with his own point of view.

His actions will become those which are best for all concerned and so his body will become an instrument for the fulfillment, not of his own selfish desires, but of the needs of all. That which embraces all will act through him, though those for whom he acts may know it not.” (Initiation into Yoga)

I said earlier that soul-kinship or spiritual solidarity is not an abstraction, but a “living truth” which can be experienced. We all have “peak experiences” of empathy, compassion, love, and bliss, in which the barriers between the self and other beings are temporarily attenuated. However, the goal of intellectual, moral, and spiritual discipline in the path of Suddha Sanmargam is to attain insight, realization, and enduring perception pertaining to the reality of soul-kinship or spiritual solidarity between the self and other beings.

Soul-kinship or spiritual solidarity of all beings is a reality which can never be destroyed by any form of division, opposition, and conflict in just the way the reality of biological kinship which constitutes a family can never be destroyed by internal conflicts or even the disintegration of that family.

A central goal of Suddha Sanmargam is to realize and express this indestructible reality of soul-kinship or spiritual solidarity in our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions. It is to transform our relations with other beings in light of this realization.

In the history of mysticism, we find several accounts of experiences and realizations of this truth of soul-kinship or spiritual solidarity of all beings.

Ramdas (1884 – 1963), a great twentieth century Indian mystic, has given us a remarkable account of his experience and realization of soul-kinship and its transforming power in his autobiographical trilogy, In Quest of God, In the Vision of God (two volumes), and World is God.

In the first volume of his book In the Vision of God, Ramdas writes, characteristically in the third-person, about his progressive realization of soul-kinship and its constitutive experience of all-embracing love:

“In the earlier stages this vision was occasionally lost, pulling him down to the old life of diversity with its turmoil of like and dislike, joy and grief. But he would be drawn in again to the silence and calmness of the spirit.

A stage was soon reached when this dwelling in the spirit became a permanent and unvarying experience with no more falling off from it, and then a still more exalted state came on: his hitherto inner vision projected outwards.

First, a glimpse of this new vision dazzled him off and on. This was the working of divine love. He would feel as though his very soul had expanded like the blossoming of a flower and, by a flash as it were, enveloped the whole universe, embracing all in a subtle halo of love and light. This experience granted him a bliss infinitely greater than he had in the previous state…Its fullness and magnificence was revealed to him during his stay in the Kadri cave, and here the experience became more sustained and continuous.

The vision of God shone in his eyes and he could see none but Him in all objects. Now wave after wave of joy rose in him. He realized that he had attained to a consciousness full of splendor, power, and bliss...He gave a touch of the inexpressible bliss he was enjoying to all who came in contact with him.

Vast crowds thronged around him wherever he went. Divine love thrilled his entire being at the sight of big multitudes. In a state of perfect ecstasy he delivered himself out in accents of love and joy.”  (In The Vision of God, Vol. 1, Chap. 1)

As Ramdas observed on several later occasions, even thousands of births or lifetimes spent to achieve this spiritual realization are mere straws compared to its value.

Note that in his account, the realization of soul-kinship with all beings is achieved in terms of an experience in which “his very soul had expanded like the blossoming of a flower and, by a flash as it were, enveloped the whole universe, embracing all in a subtle halo of light and love“.

In other words, his realization of the “living truth” of soul-kinship is constituted by an experience of all-embracing love. Hence, vast crowds are drawn to him by the radiating power of this all-embracing love.

Ramdas is not repelled by these vast crowds of Indian villagers. He does not see an “ignorant and sinful throng of unwashed humanity” or anything like that. Rather, “Divine love thrilled his entire being at the sight of big multitudes.” This speaks volumes on his attainment.

Note also that in his account, the realization of soul-kinship and its constitutive experience of all-embracing love is inextricably woven into the larger fabric of the experience and realization of the all-pervasive divine reality, light, and love, the “vision of God” which disclosed “none but Him in all objects” as a result of “the working of divine love”.

I will continue with other accounts of experiences and realizations of soul-kinship or spiritual solidarity in the next post.

December 19, 2014

The Delusion Of Social And Species Division (1)

The delusion of social and species division is a central doctrine of Suddha Sanmargam.

It is implied by Ramalingam’s emphasis on the falsity and illegitimacy (Tamil:பொய்) of social divisions, among human beings, based on caste, class, race, clan, tribe, custom, gender, religion, nationality, and so forth, and species division, presupposed by speciesism, between human and non-human beings, based on biological differences.

The delusion of social and species division is also implied by the great moral and spiritual ideal of Suddha Sanmargam: the realization of soul-kinship with all sentient beings.

Recall that, in the previous post, I made a distinction between difference and division and characterized a division in terms of relations of opposition, discrimination, and antagonism, relations stemming from the emphasis on, and the exacerbation of, differences at the expense of shared features, inclusive of common needs and interests.

A division is, therefore, a fertile breeding ground of hatred and cruelty.

In its very nature, the division of the self and the other, with its attendant occlusion of the common ground and interest of the self and the other, leads to self-aggrandizement at the expense of the other. Inhumanity toward the other follows predictably.

Why is it a delusion to believe in the legitimacy of social divisions among human beings and species division between human and non-human beings?

It is a delusion because it is a false belief leading to pathology of thought, feeling, attitude, and action.

Here is why the belief in the legitimacy of social and species division is false.

Two entities X and Y are different if one has properties which the other lacks or possesses in lesser or greater degree.

However, this does not justify a division between X and Y, a relation of division characterized by opposition, discrimination, and antagonism.

The reason is that the differences do not imply the absence of similarities, or shared features, inclusive of common needs and interests, regardless of their degree, between X and Y.

Hence, difference does not imply an absence of common ground between X and Y based on their common needs and interests .

Therefore, the belief that there is necessarily a division between X and Y, because of the differences in their attributes, is false.

In other words, it is illogical, and, therefore, irrational to think that social and species divisions are implied by the existence of differences among human beings, or between human and non-human sentient beings.

For instance, X and Y may be different in that X, a human, has an advanced ability to communicate by means of language, whereas Y, a dog, has a limited capacity to communicate due to lack of language.

However, this difference in their level of ability to communicate does not abrogate the fact that the need and capacity to communicate is a similarity, or a shared property, between a human and a dog.

Hence, the fact that humans have language ability and dogs lack that ability does not show the absence of a shared or common need to communicate.

It follows that there is no basis for discriminatory treatment of dogs in respect of their need to communicate, among other needs.

Therefore, it would be morally wrong to deprive dogs of their capacity for communication, or to significantly restrict, or diminish, that capacity.

Thus, despite their differences, both human and non-human beings have needs and interests in common, e.g., need for sustenance, need for habitation, need for movement in an adequate amount of physical space, need for physical safety, etc., and, therefore, it is morally wrong to discriminate between human and non-human beings in respect of these common needs and interests.

Balaam and the Ass, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1626. “After Balaam starts punishing the donkey for refusing to move, it is miraculously given the power to speak to Balaam (Numbers 22:28), and it complains about Balaam’s treatment. At this point, Balaam is allowed to see the angel, who informs him that the donkey is the only reason the angel did not kill Balaam. Balaam immediately repents, but is told to go on.” (Source: Wikipedia)

As I pointed out earlier, hatred and cruelty follow in the wake of the delusive belief in divisions among human beings and between human and non-human beings.

The delusive belief  in the division of human and non-human beings has led to pathological indifference, or cruelty, toward non-human beings.

As Jeffrey Masson points out in his book When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, the French philosopher Descartes’ belief  in the division of humans and animals, hinging on the delusion that animals are machines bereft of the capacity to feel pain, led to the perpetration of pathological cruelty on animals:

(they) administered beatings to dogs with perfect indifference and made fun of those who pitied the creatures…They said the animals were clocks; that the cries they emitted when struck were only the noise of a little spring that had been touched, but that the whole body was without feeling.  They nailed the poor animals up on boards by their four paws to vivisect them to see the circulation of the blood, which was a great subject of controversy.”

A victim of the barbaric “bullfighting”!

The great English artist William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) showed in his series of engravings titled “The Four Stages of Cruelty” (1751) that the pathological cruelty toward animals, which stems from the species division of humans and animals and its attendant occlusion of their common needs and interests, is inexorably extended to other humans and inevitably recoils on the perpetrator.

William Hogarth, Painter and his Pug, 1745

William Hogarth, Painter and his Pug, Self-portrait, 1745

Hogarth commented to a bookseller, one Mr. Sewell, that:

“there is no part of my works of which I am so proud, and in which I now feel so happy, as in the series of The Four Stages of Cruelty because I believe the publication of theme has checked the diabolical spirit of barbarity to the brute creation which, I am sorry to say, was once so prevalent in this country.”  (European Magazine, June 1801)

Hogarth’s series may also be viewed as a portrayal of the karma of cruelty to animals.

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“The First Stage of Cruelty” (1751) by William Hogarth. In the first print Hogarth introduces Tom Nero, whose name may have been inspired by the Roman Emperor of the same name…Conspicuous in the centre of the plate, he is shown being assisted by other boys to insert an arrow into a dog’s rectum, a torture apparently inspired by a devil punishing a sinner in Jacques Callot’s Temptation of St. Anthony. A more tender-hearted boy, perhaps the dog’s owner, pleads with Nero to stop tormenting the frightened animal, even offering food in an attempt to appease him. The other boys carry out equally barbaric acts: the two boys at the top of the steps are burning the eyes out of a bird with a hot needle heated by the link-boy’s torch; the boys in the foreground are throwing at a cock (perhaps an allusion to a nationalistic enmity towards the French, and a suggestion that the action takes place on Shrove Tuesday, the traditional day for cock-shying); another boy ties a bone to a dog’s tail—tempting, but out of reach; a pair of fighting cats are hung by their tails and taunted by a jeering group of boys; in the bottom left-hand corner a dog is set on a cat; and in the rear of the picture another cat tied to two bladders is thrown from a high window. (Source: Wikipedia)

While various Scenes of sportive Woe,
The Infant Race employ,
And tortur’d Victims bleeding shew,
The Tyrant in the Boy.

Behold! a Youth of gentler Heart,
To spare the Creature’s pain,
O take, he cries—take all my Tart,
But Tears and Tart are vain.

Learn from this fair Example—You
Whom savage Sports delight,
How Cruelty disgusts the view,
While Pity charms the sight.

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The Second Stage of Cruelty” William Hogarth (1751). “In the second plate, the scene is Thavies Inn Gate (sometimes ironically written as Thieves Inn Gate), one of the Inns of Chancery which housed associations of lawyers in London. Tom Nero has grown up and become a hackney coachman, and the recreational cruelty of the schoolboy has turned into the professional cruelty of a man at work. Tom’s horse, worn out from years of mistreatment and overloading, has collapsed, breaking its leg and upsetting the carriage. Disregarding the animal’s pain, Tom has beaten it so furiously that he has put its eye out. In a satirical aside, Hogarth shows four corpulent barristers struggling to climb out of the carriage in a ludicrous state. They are probably caricatures of eminent jurists, but Hogarth did not reveal the subjects’ names, and they have not been identified. Elsewhere in the scene, other acts of cruelty against animals take place: a drover beats a lamb to death, an ass is driven on by force despite being overloaded, and an enraged bull tosses one of its tormentors. The cruelty has also advanced to include abuse of people. A dray crushes a playing boy while the drayman sleeps, oblivious to the boy’s injury and the beer spilling from his barrels. Posters in the background advertise a cockfight and a boxing match as further evidence of the brutal entertainments favoured by the subjects of the image. According to Werner Busch, the composition alludes to Rembrandt’s painting, Balaam’s Ass (1626). (Source: Wikipedia)

The generous Steed in hoary Age,
Subdu’d by Labour lies;
And mourns a cruel Master’s rage,
While Nature Strength denies.

The tender Lamb o’er drove and faint,
Amidst expiring Throws;
Bleats forth it’s innocent complaint
And dies beneath the Blows.

Inhuman Wretch! say whence proceeds
This coward Cruelty?
What Int’rest springs from barb’rous deeds?
What Joy from Misery?

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The Third Stage Of Cruelty” William Hogarth (1751). “By the time of the third plate, Tom Nero has progressed from the mistreatment of animals to theft and murder. Having encouraged his pregnant lover, Ann Gill, to rob and leave her mistress, he murders the girl when she meets him. The murder is shown to be particularly brutal: her neck, wrist, and index finger are almost severed. Various features in the print are meant to intensify the feelings of dread: the murder takes place in a graveyard, said to be St Pancras but suggested by John Ireland to resemble Marylebone; an owl and a bat fly around the scene; the moon shines down on the crime; the clock strikes one for the end of the witching hour. The composition of the image may allude to Anthony van Dyck’s The Arrest of Christ. A lone Good Samaritan appears again: among the snarling faces of Tom’s accusers, a single face looks to the heavens in pity.” (Source: Wikipedia)

To lawless Love when once betray’d.
Soon Crime to Crime succeeds:
At length beguil’d to Theft, the Maid
By her Beguiler bleeds.

Yet learn, seducing Man! nor Night,
With all its sable Cloud,
can screen the guilty Deed from sight;
Foul Murder cries aloud.

The gaping Wounds and bloodstain’d steel,
Now shock his trembling Soul:
But Oh! what Pangs his Breast must feel,
When Death his Knell shall toll.

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“The Fourth Stage Of Cruelty” William Hogarth (1751). “Having been tried and found guilty of murder, Nero has now been hanged and his body taken for the ignominious process of public dissection. The year after the prints were issued, the Murder Act 1752 would ensure that the bodies of murderers could be delivered to the surgeons so they could be “dissected and anatomised”. A tattoo on his arm identifies Tom Nero, and the rope still around his neck shows his method of execution. The dissectors, their hearts hardened after years of working with cadavers, are shown to have as much feeling for the body as Nero had for his victims; his eye is put out just as his horse’s was, and a dog feeds on his heart, taking a poetic revenge for the torture inflicted on one of its kind in the first plate. Nero’s face appears contorted in agony and although this depiction is not realistic, Hogarth meant it to heighten the fear for the audience. Just as his murdered mistress’s finger pointed to Nero’s destiny in Cruelty in Perfection, in this print Nero’s finger points to the boiled bones being prepared for display, indicating his ultimate fate.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Behold the Villain’s dire disgrace!
Not Death itself can end.
He finds no peaceful Burial-Place,
His breathless Corse, no friend.

Torn from the Root, that wicked Tongue,
Which daily swore and curst!
Those Eyeballs from their Sockets wrung,
That glow’d with lawless Lust!

His Heart expos’d to prying Eyes,
To Pity has no claim;
But, dreadful! from his Bones shall rise,
His Monument of Shame.

August 1, 2014

Soul-Kinship And The Scourge of Division

 

Anti-Arab graffiti left by JDL on a Palestinian Girls’ school in Hebron, West Bank

எங்குல மெம்மின மென்பதொண் ணூற்றா
றங்குல மென்றரு ளருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி (Agaval, 219-220).

“My caste!”, “my clan!”, “my race!”, “my community!”

They clamor!

But enlighten us that

They refer only to the same living body in its standard length

Arutperumjothi!   (Trans. Thill Raghu)

Ramalingam’s ethic of compassion is designed to awaken and develop our innate and dormant sense of soul-kinship with all sentient beings.

Compassion is possible only because of the reality of soul-kinship and a soul’s intuitive discernment of it. But the cultivation of compassion also brings about a flowering and realization of this innate and dormant sense of soul-kinship, a central goal of moral and spiritual development on the path of Suddha Sanmargam.

Thus, a full awareness or realization of the truth of soul-kinship, and its expression in our attitudes and actions, is the objective of the practice of the ethic of compassion for sentient beings on the path of Suddha Sanmargam.

We have seen that Ramalingam affirms the reality of plurality and diversity of sentient beings.

The affirmation of the reality of plurality and diversity of sentient beings is a metaphysical presupposition of his ethic of compassion.

If a view V presupposes a claim C, then C is necessarily consistent with V.

Therefore, this affirmation of the reality of plurality and diversity of sentient beings or souls is also consistent with Ramalingam’s emphasis on soul-kinship.

Kinship-in-diversity and unity-in-diversity are the central truths, respectively, of his ethics and metaphysics.

Diversity does not abrogate the reality of biological kinship in a human family. In just the same way, diversity does not abrogate the reality of soul-kinship in the vast family of sentient beings.

However, divisions undermine the sense of kinship in a family and threaten its unity. In the same way, divisions also undermine the sense of soul-kinship with sentient beings.

What is a division?

A division implies a relation constituted by dichotomy, or opposition, and discord. Hence, divisions imply conflict.

If divisions undermine our sense of soul-kinship, they will also undermine our ability to feel empathy and compassion. This paves the way to the perpetration of all sorts of injustices and cruelties on other sentient beings. Hence, we must carefully consider the nature of division and the means of overcoming it.

Difference or diversity is not a sufficient condition of division. In other words, difference or diversity does not necessarily imply division.

A human family is a good example. All the individuals who constitute a human family have different physical and mental characteristics, but these differences do not necessarily undermine the sense of kinship in that family. If the mere fact of differences in physical and mental characteristics were sufficient to undermine the sense of kinship in a family, then there would be no families at all!

In certain conditions, however, differences become divisions and undermine the sense of kinship in a family. Hence, we should focus on the analysis of conditions in which differences become divisions and undermine the sense of soul-kinship, the basis of compassion.

The mere fact of difference or diversity is not necessarily the problem. However, the emphasis on differences or diversity at the expense of the truth of the common or shared nature and predicament of human beings, and the sense of soul-kinship with other human beings, is certainly responsible for the prevalence of unjust and inhumane division, exclusion, and discrimination in human society.

This emphasis on the differences between the self and the other, and at the expense of the truth of soul-kinship between the self and the other, also takes the form of an identity which is divisive and exclusive e.g., caste, ethnic, race, gender, species, national, class, religious, political identities, etc.

Divisions are opposed to the truth of soul-kinship among sentient beings. Hence, divisions are false.

The human condition is rife with social divisions based on various sorts of differences: physical differences or differences pertaining to the physical body, differences of beliefs and values, differences of geographical or regional origin, differences of communal affiliation such as caste or ethnicity, differences of language, differences of sexual orientation, differences of social and/or economic status, etc.

These sorts of differences become hardened or encrusted into divisions when they are emphasized or given importance at the expense of the common ground or shared elements or features of human beings and their conditions of embodied existence.

The differences then become the basis for unjust and inhumane exclusion and discriminatory treatment. Such unjust and inhumane exclusion and discriminatory treatment springs from, and in turn contributes to, the further obscuration of a sense of soul-kinship and the waning of compassion. And this waning of compassion leads to a proliferation of unjust and inhumane exclusionary and discriminatory acts and practices.

In the absence of compassion, all sorts of injustices and cruelties will be perpetrated on other sentient beings, and moral order itself, constituted by the prevalence of patterns of ethical conduct, will collapse.

Ramalingam holds that compassion is the linchpin of moral order in all the worlds. Hence, that which undermines compassion also undermines moral order in the world. Since divisions undermine compassion, they also undermine moral order.

Hence, the effective means to prevent or alleviate the cancer of division in human society lies in the abolition of all unjust and inhumane division, exclusion, and discriminatory treatment based on any kind or type of difference among human beings.

This can be achieved only if we discern and emphasize the common ground of human beings, and, indeed, of all sentient beings, and do not countenance differences at the expense of this common ground.

Ramalingam has strongly condemned this tendency to create divisions among human beings on the basis of religion, sectarianism, caste, clan or ancestry, national origin, race, gender, and creed. He has also condemned the killing of animals and the destruction of plant life on the basis of speciesism, or the division between human and non-human living beings. These divisions only strengthen the ignorance of soul-kinship and lead to the waning of compassion.

There are shared universals of physical, biological, and spiritual nature underlying the differences among sentient beings.

In Ramalingam’s view, these sociocultural divisions based on caste, ethnicity, race, etc., obscure the reality of the common physical, biological, and spiritual predicament of human beings.

Addressing the divisions of race, caste, and community among human beings, Ramalingam petitions Arutperumjothi to enlighten the ignorant perpetrators of these divisions that they are merely labels attached to the physical body. 

எங்குல மெம்மின மென்பதொண் ணூற்றா
றங்குல மென்றரு ளருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி (219-220).

“My caste!”, “my clan!”, “my race!”, “my community!”

They clamor!

But enlighten us that

They refer only to the same living body in its standard length

Arutperumjothi!   (Trans. Thill Raghu)

This verse also implies that the body is the common denominator or ground underlying the divisions of race, caste, tribe, community, etc. In other words, all these social divisions obscure the fact that the divided human beings share the same form of body and the vicissitudes of change which assail it.

Ascriptions of caste, race, etc., do not belong to the fundamental constituents and nature of the body possessed in common by both the so-called higher and lower castes, races, tribes, clans, nations, communities, etc. They also do not pertain to the soul or individual consciousness which is the real subject and agent.

It follows that social and cultural divisions of caste, race, tribe, clan, religion, etc., are false. They are not inherent in nature, the human body, or the soul.

In other words, nothing in the essential nature of the body or the soul of human beings can possibly show that they belong exclusively to any caste, tribe, clan, race, or religion, and that they are superior or inferior by virtue of this sort of identity.

Rather, these divisions are only maintained and perpetuated by false beliefs, irrational attitudes, and wrong conduct.

There is no “white blood” or “black blood”, only false notions of white blood or black blood. 

There is no “Brahmin blood” or “Shudra blood”, only false notions of Brahmin blood or Shudra blood.

There is no “Jewish blood” or “Arab blood”.

There is  just human blood!

In the same way, there is literally no “Hindu soul” or “Muslim soul”, “Jewish soul” or “Arab soul”. 

There are only ignorant divisions of human beings into Hindus and Muslims, Jews and Arabs, and so forth, based on a lack of discernment of the common features of their bodies, souls, and embodied predicament!

June 13, 2014

Soul-Unity (ஆன்மநேய ஒருமை): A Great Ideal of Suddha Sanmargam (4)

French troops slaughtering Spanish civilians in Goya's painting "The Third of May 1808".

French troops slaughtering Spanish civilians in Goya’s painting “The Third of May 1808”.

Why are some beings indifferent to the sufferings of other beings if there is soul-kinship among all beings?

Ramalingam raises this important question in his great unfinished essay on ஜீவகாருண்ய ஒழுக்கம் or “The Ethic of Compassion for Sentient Beings“.

He answers by pointing out that although soul-kinship is a reality, the central faculty of discernment (Tamil: ஆன்ம அறிவு) of this truth of soul-kinship is obscured or eclipsed by ignorance in some beings.

This cardinal ignorance also renders the soul’s cognitive instruments of mind, intellect, etc., opaque and unable to reflect the light of the truth of soul-kinship.

Hence, these beings do not recognize soul-kinship, and, consequently, lack compassion for other sentient beings who undergo suffering. From this it follows that those who have compassion possess the faculty of discernment of soul-kinship.

As Ramalingam writes in Tamil in the first part of his essay on compassion for sentient beings:

சீவர்கள் துக்கப் படுகின்றதைக் கண்டபோதும், சிலர் சீவகாருணியமில்லாமல் கடினசித்தர்களாயிருக்கின்றார்கள்;

“Some persons lack compassion and remain unmoved even at the sight of the suffering of other sentient beings.”

இவர்களுக்குச் சகோதர உரிமை இல்லாமற்போவது ஏனெனில்:

“Why do these persons lack a sense of brotherhood or kinship (with those sentient beings)?”

துக்கப்படுகின்றவரைத் தமது சகோதரரென்றும் துக்கப்படுகின்றாரென்றும் துக்கப்படுவாரென்றும் அறியத்தக்க ஆன்ம அறிவு என்கிற கண்ணானது அஞ்ஞானகாசத்தால் மிகவும் ஒளி மழுங்கினபடியாலும், அவைகளுக்கு உபகாரமாகக் கொண்ட மனம் முதலான உபநயனங்களாகிய கண்ணாடிகளும் பிரகாச பிரதிபலிதமில்லாமல் தடிப்புள்ளவைகளாக இருந்த படியாலும் கண்டறியக் கூடாமையாயிற்று.

“It is because their faculty of soul-knowing (ஆன்ம அறிவு ), the soul’s eye, which can see that another sentient being which is suffering is a brother, or kin, and that it is suffering, or is capable of suffering, is afflicted by the cataract of ignorance, and, consequently, even the spectacles or instruments which facilitate the vision of the soul, e.g., mind, intellect, etc., are rendered opaque and bereft of the capacity to reflect the light of knowledge (of soul-kinship).”

அதனால், சகோதர உரிமையிருந்தும் சீவகாருணியம் உண்டாகாம லிருந்ததென் றறிய வேண்டும்.

“Hence, they lack compassion despite the fact of their brotherhood or kinship with those sentient beings.”

இதனால் சீவகாருணியமுள்ளவர் ஆன்ம திருஷ்டி விளக்கமுள்ளவரென்றறியப்படும்.” (ஜீவகாருண்ய ஒழுக்கம், முதற் பிரிவு)

“From this, it should be known that those who have compassion possess the clarity of vision of the soul’s eye of discernment, or soul-knowing.”

Thus, in Ramalingam’s analysis, there is fundamentally an epistemic or cognitive deficiency, the eclipse of the soul’s central faculty of discernment (ஆன்ம அறிவு), which is responsible for the absence of compassion in the face of suffering experienced by other sentient beings.

In a Socratic vein, Ramalingam holds that the cardinal vice of absence of compassion is due to lack of knowledge of the truth of soul-kinship.

But if each soul has this faculty of discernment which enables it to recognize soul-kinship with another sentient being, why does this faculty get obscured, eclipsed, or atrophied, due to ignorance, in some souls or beings? In other words, why  are some beings afflicted by this ignorance of their soul-kinship with other sentient beings?

To answer this question, we must turn to the concept of āṇavam (Tamil: ஆணவம்), or egoism in the Tamil Saiva Siddhanta tradition.

Although he had a deep knowledge of it, Ramalingam was not an adherent or practitioner of the Tamil Saiva Siddhanta philosophical tradition. But he does affirm some of its metaphysical claims.

A central metaphysical claim of this tradition is that all unenlightened souls or pašu (Tamil: பசு) are fettered by the three cords of bondage or pācam (Tamil: பாசம்): ஆணவம் or āṇavam (egoism), கன்மம் or kaṉmam (karma, causality), and மாயை or māyai (matter, the “stuff” of our bodies and cosmos).

Ramalingam affirms this claim in his definition of the unenlightened soul or pašu (பசு) in his “Ethic of Compassion for Sentient Beings”.

Aṇavam is the primordial impurity (Tamil:ஆணவமலம்) which taints every individual soul in the form of a potentiality. It is manifested in terms of a tendency toward a separate, selfish, and exclusive existence. It leads to an eclipse of a soul’s ability to recognize soul-kinship.

As a consequence, there is an exacerbation of the division between self and the other. This division further paves the way to opposition, conflict, enmity, domination, and oppression in its relations with other beings and the inevitable chain reactions of Karma which assail the soul.

Thus, we can only explain the absence of compassion in some beings in terms of their ignorance of soul-kinship. Their ignorance of soul-kinship, in its turn, is explained by their longstanding choice of cultivation of the separative and exclusive tendencies of āṇavam or egoism and their subjection to the inevitable karma or consequences of these egoistic tendencies.

Hence, to recover and develop this knowledge of soul-unity or soul-kinship we must reverse the process of ignorance in question by weakening the tendencies of āṇavam or egoism and cultivating empathy and compassion.

It is interesting to note that Wang Yang-Ming also holds the view that the innate sense of unity with all things, the innate knowledge that the myriad things form “one body”, can be 0bscured by selfish desires, a manifestation of āṇavam, and that this obscuration can lead to cruelty against others:

“This means that even the mind of the small man necessarily has the humanity that forms one body with all. Such a mind is rooted in his Heaven-endowed nature, and is naturally intelligent, clear, and not beclouded. For this reason it is called the “clear character.”

Although the mind of the small man is divided and narrow, yet his humanity that forms one body can remain free from darkness to this degree. This is due to the fact that his mind has not yet been aroused by desires and obscured by selfishness.

When it is aroused by desires and obscured by selfishness, compelled by greed for gain and fear of harm, and stirred by anger, he will destroy things, kill members of his own species, and will do everything.

In extreme cases he will even slaughter his own brothers, and the humanity that forms one body will disappear completely.

Hence, if it is not obscured by selfish desires, even the mind of the small man has the humanity that forms one body with all as does the mind of the great man. As soon as it is obscured by selfish desires, even the mind of the great man will be divided and narrow like that of the small man.

The learning of the great man consists entirely in getting rid of the obscuration of selfish desires in order by his own efforts to make manifest his clear character, so as to restore the condition of forming one body with Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things, a condition that is originally so, that is all.” ( “An Inquiry on the Great Learning,” in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, translated and compiled by Wing-Tsit Chan [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963], pp. 659-660.)

There is an interesting objection to Ramalingam’s argument that discernment of soul-kinship is the basis of compassion and that, therefore, lack of compassion is due to the lack of discernment of soul-kinship.

This objection points to those who do not subscribe to the notion that there is a soul, not to mention soul-kinship, but who are, nevertheless, compassionate.

Does the existence of these sorts of compassionate persons refute Ramalingam’s argument linking compassion and discernment of soul-kinship?

The answer to this objection must first clarify what Ramalingam means by “discernment of soul-kinship”. This discernment is a function of a cognitive faculty (Tamil: ஆன்ம அறிவு) possessed by a soul. The Tamil term used by Ramalingam to refer to this faculty means “soul-knowing” or “soul-discernment”.

What sort of knowledge is discernment of soul-kinship?

It is the knowledge that other sentient beings, regardless of their physical forms or bodies, are, nevertheless, beings similar to me in that they can suffer and be subjected to various types of harm, or flourish, in the way I can.

It is the knowledge that other sentient beings are selves, or subjects of experiences, and agents with varying capacities for action, in the way I am.

It is also the knowledge that by virtue of these similarities, a bond, or relation, or kinship, exists among us and that, as a consequence, I have an obligation to provide assistance or relief to these sentient beings if I know that they are undergoing suffering or harm and possess the capacity to alleviate their suffering or harm.

(I would add, in this context, that all scientific knowledge of the similarities and common origin of sentient beings can facilitate the discernment of soul-kinship with all those beings.)

Now, it cannot be denied that compassion is constituted by an empathetic understanding of the nature and predicament of another sentient being, an understanding which has all the elements of Ramalingam’s concept of discernment of soul-kinship.

Therefore, those who are compassionate possess this type of empathetic understanding of other sentient beings, or discernment of soul-kinship, and it does not matter whether they actually use the concept of soul-kinship and its discernment in describing their understanding.

Regardless of the vocabulary employed by these compassionate persons to describe the elements of their empathetic understanding, it is tantamount to a discernment of soul-kinship.

 

 

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