Posts tagged ‘Soul-kinship’

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.

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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.

 

 

June 12, 2014

Soul-Unity (ஆன்மநேய ஒருமை): A Great Ideal of Suddha Sanmargam (3)

Chidambaram Ramalingam
May All Beings Attain Bliss and Flourish!

Another figure in the history of ethics whose evocative reflections on compassion and its metaphysical basis merit comparison with Ramalingam’s views on the subject is Wang Yang-Ming 王阳明 (1472 – 1529 C.E.) a great Chinese thinker and sage.

Wang Yangming 王阳明 (1472 - 1529 C.E.)

Wang Yang-Ming 王阳明 (1472 – 1529 C.E.)

Wang Yang-Ming’s central claim is that a sense of unity with all things, based on the understanding that all things constitute “one body” or a unified whole, is innate in our consciousness.

The “great man”, or a wise person who has curbed selfish desires, spontaneously regards “Heaven and Earth and the myriad things as one body“, but even the mind of the “small man”, or a person lacking in wisdom due to indulgence in selfish desires, is no different in this respect because it retains the same innate sense of the unity of all things, or the understanding that all things form “one body”.

Wang Yang-Ming finds evidence of this innate sense of unity with all things, springing from the understanding that the myriad things form “one body” or a unified whole, in the spontaneous manifestations of compassion even in the minds of “small men”.

Thus, even the mind of the “small man” is spontaneously overcome by concern and compassion when he sees a child about to fall into a well.

Is this compassion simply due to the fact that he realizes that the child is also a human being like him?

Wang Yang-Ming denies that this spontaneous compassion has anything to do with the fact that both of them belong to the same human species. He points out that even the mind of the “small man” is spontaneously overcome by concern and compassion when he observes the “pitiful cries and frightened appearance of birds and animals about to be slaughtered”, despite the fact that these belong to a different species.

In this context, I should point out a striking difference between Wang Yang-Ming and Ramalingam.

Wang Yang-Ming, despite his acknowledgement of the suffering of animals in the slaughterhouse and his emphasis on kindness toward them, thought that it was still morally permissible to kill them for food and for sacrificial purposes. As he put it, in the context of a discussion of priority of actions:

Animals and men alike should be loved, yet it is proper under certain circumstances to kill animals, especially for parents, guests, and as sacrificial offerings.”

Ramalingam, in contrast, holds uncompromisingly that it is morally wrong to kill animals for food and strongly condemns the sacrifice of animals for religious and ritualistic purposes.

Is this compassion simply due to the fact that he realizes that these birds and animals are also sentient beings similar in some ways to him?

Wang Yang-Ming denies that this spontaneous compassion has anything to do with the fact that the birds and animals are also sentient beings similar in some ways to the “small man”. He points out that even the mind of the “small man” is spontaneously overcome by concern and compassion when he sees “plants broken and destroyed”, despite the fact that these are not sentient beings similar to him.

Is this compassion simply due to the fact that plants also have life in just the way he does?

Wang Yang-Ming now takes the radical step of denying that this spontaneous compassion has anything to do with the fact that the “small man” shares the property of life with the plants. He points out that even the mind of the “small man” is spontaneously overcome by regret when he sees “tiles and stones shattered and crushed”, despite the fact that these are inanimate things.

What, then, is the origin of the spontaneous concern and compassion which arise even in the mind of the “small man” at the sight of a child about to fall into a well, the pitiful cries and frightened appearance of birds and animals about to be slaughtered, plants broken and destroyed, and tiles and stones shattered and crushed?

Wang Yang-Ming answers that the origin of the spontaneous concern and compassion even in the mind of a “small man” lies in the fact that his humanity forms “one body” with the child, birds and animals, plants, and tiles and stones. Indeed, it lies in the fact that his humanity forms “one body” with all things.

Here is the relevant and stirring passage from the Inquiry On The Great Learning:

“Master Wang said: The great man regards Heaven and Earth and the myriad things as one body. He regards the world as one family and the country as one person. As to those who make a cleavage between objects and distinguish between the self and others, they are small men.

That the great man can regard Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things as one body is not because he deliberately wants to do so, but because it is natural to the humane nature of his mind that he do so.

Forming one body with Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things is not only true of the great man. Even the mind of the small man is no different. Only he himself makes it small.

Therefore when he sees a child about to fall into a well, he cannot help a feeling of alarm and commiseration. This shows that his humanity forms one body with the child. It may be objected that the child belongs to the same species. Again, when he observes the pitiful cries and frightened appearance of birds and animals about to be slaughtered, he cannot help feeling an “inability to bear” their suffering. This shows that his humanity forms one body with birds and animals. It may be objected that birds and animals are sentient beings as he is. But when he sees plants broken and destroyed, he cannot help a feeling of pity. This shows that his humanity forms one body with plants. It may be said that plants are living things as he is. Yet even when he sees tiles and stones shattered and crushed, he cannot help a feeling of regret.

This means that even the mind of the small man necessarily has the humanity that forms one body with all.” (A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, trans. Wing-Tsit Chan, Princeton University Press, 1963, pp. 659-660)

The key concept here is that of a person’s “humanity” forming “one body” with all things. What could this possibly mean? What could it mean in the context of the quoted passage?

Is it a precursor of  Schopenhauer’s reference to “that respect in which we are all one and the same entity“? It seems to be, particularly given Wang Yang-Ming’s disparagement of those who “make a cleavage between objects and distinguish between self and others” in the passage quoted earlier.

This would mean that Wang Yang-Ming is essentially affirming metaphysical monism in making his claim that the myriad things constitute “one body”. But there is also a suggestion that the “great man” recognizes the kinship underlying diversity in that he “regards the world as one family“.

If we substitute Ramalingam’s concept of soul-kinship for Wang Yang-Ming’s obscure concept of a person’s “humanity” forming “one body with all things”, we can make sense of the fact that even a “small man” spontaneously feels concern and compassion for a child about to fall into a well, birds and animals about to be slaughtered, broken plants, etc.

Even the “small man”, one who is immersed in selfish desires, has an innate sense of soul-kinship with other sentient beings and this sense spontaneously expresses itself in terms of concern and compassion at the sight of another sentient being undergoing, or about to undergo, suffering, harm, or destruction.

But soul-kinship presupposes the existence of souls, the bearers of sentience and consciousness, and implies a relation among them.

How, then, can we make sense of Wang Yang-Ming’s  inclusion of inanimate objects in the range of a person’s “humanity” or scope of concern and compassion? What sort of kinship can there be between a sentient and conscious being and an inanimate object?

Wang Yang-Ming actually mentions “regret” and not “compassion” in writing about the response of the “small man” at the sight of shattered and crushed tiles and stones. But, contrary to Wang Yang-Ming, it is not clear that such regret pertains to the fate of the tiles and stones per se.

We may regret the destruction of a rock because we think this has adverse consequences for the environment or for the creatures who use the rock, or the protected surface beneath it, as a habitation. We may also regret the destruction of a rock for aesthetic reasons. It may diminish the aesthetic quality of the landscape.

Rocks in Ryōan-ji (late 15th century) in Kyoto, Japan, a famous example of a zen garden

Rocks in Ryōan-ji (late 15th century) in Kyoto, Japan, a famous example of a Zen garden

But do we, or can we, really regret the destruction of a rock simply for the sake of the rock? I don’t think so.

Rocks do not have any interests. Therefore, they cannot be harmed. They are not sentient. Hence, they cannot suffer. Therefore, there is no question of feeling any compassion for a rock.

But, certainly, as acknowledged earlier, we can be concerned about the impact of the destruction of a rock on sentient beings in a given environment.

Israeli Demolition of 2 apartment home of the Palestinian 8-member Idris family, their relative, her husband and their two children (Beit Hanina, 2014)

Israeli Demolition of 2 apartment home of the Palestinian 8-member Idris family, their relative, her husband and their two children (Beit Hanina, 2014)

When we see houses or other structures made of tiles and stones, or other materials, destroyed in a war, or in an Israeli-style criminal campaign of demolitions (of Palestinian homes), we can feel regret for various sensible reasons: reasons pertaining to the waste of valuable labor expended in constructing the houses, reasons pertaining to the risk of death or grievous bodily injury faced by people who were living in those houses at the time of their destruction, reasons pertaining to the homelessness of the former inhabitants of the houses, reasons pertaining to the historical, sociocultural, and/or aesthetic value of those houses or structures, and so forth. But this list does not include any intrinsic concern for those houses or structures, or concern purely for the sake of the houses or structures.

Hence, I think that the limits of sentience constitute the limits of compassion and its basis of soul-kinship. There is no question of the inclusion of inanimate objects in the range of soul-kinship or compassion.

Therefore, contrary to Wang Yang-Ming’s approach, Ramalingam does not include insentient objects in the scope of soul-kinship and compassion.

In his ethic of compassion, the proper use of insentient objects such as rocks is largely a function of their role in preventing or alleviating the suffering of sentient beings.

Thus, destruction of insentient objects is permissible as a means to prevent or alleviate the suffering of sentient beings, e.g., it is permissible and praiseworthy to destroy a rock to prevent it from crushing a tree, or another sentient being.

 

 

 

 

June 10, 2014

Soul-Unity (ஆன்மநேய ஒருமை): A Great Ideal of Suddha Sanmargam (2)

Chidambaram Ramalingam
May All Beings Attain Bliss and Flourish!

In the previous post, I pointed out the crucial distinction between the claim of soul-unity based on soul-kinship and the claim of soul-identity or oneness of souls. I argued that, unlike Ramalingam’s claim of soul-unity based on soul-kinship, the claim of identity or oneness of a plurality of souls or individuals is incoherent since it implies both a denial of plurality of souls and an acknowledgment that a plurality of souls perceive the appearance of plurality and/or discern the underlying reality of oneness.

In his great unfinished essay on “The Ethic of Compassion for Sentient Beings“, written in eloquent and moving Tamil prose in the mid-1860’s and first published in 1879, five years after his disappearance, Ramalingam argues that soul-kinship is the basis of compassion. The intuitive discernment of the fact that another sentient being subject to suffering is one’s soul-kin and soul-kind underlies all compassion.

Soul-kinship makes it possible for an agent not only to empathize with a being who is suffering, but also to make the alleviation of the suffering of that being the main motive of the agent’s action. Otherwise, it remains a mystery why anyone would be moved by a total stranger’s suffering, or the suffering of distant peoples, or even an animal’s suffering, and make it their main motive or purpose to alleviate that suffering.

Ramalingam, therefore, holds that any manifestation of compassion is not only evidence that an underlying soul-kinship exists, but also that the person who feels compassion possesses moral and spiritual discernment of the underlying reality of soul-kinship.

In just the way knowledge of bodily or biological kinship is the basis of  concern for and empathy with the suffering of a brother or sister, a soul’s intuitive knowledge of soul-kinship with another sentient being, regardless of whether this being is a stranger, or even a member of another species, is the basis of compassion for that being.

In the Western tradition of philosophy, the great German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) whose seminal work in ethics, titled “On The Basis of Morality”, first published in 1840 when Ramalingam was only seventeen years old, offered important and radical reflections on compassion.

Indeed, Schopenhauer tried to show that compassion is the basis of morality.  Ramalingam, living in the city of Madras (now Chennai) in India in 1840, could not have known about Schopenhauer’s work, but he would later affirm the same truth that ethical conduct has its foundation in compassion in his essay on the ethic of compassion.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860) Portrait by Jules Lunteschütz

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) Portrait by Jules Lunteschütz

Schopenhauer points out that compassion is a puzzling psychological fact. Compassion has for its sole object the alleviation of the suffering of another. It involves empathy or the ability to feel the bite or weight of another being’s suffering. Schopenhauer is puzzled by this and asks:

But now how is it possible for a suffering which is not mine and does not touch me to become just as directly a motive as only my own normally does, and to move me to action?” (On The Basis of Morality, trans. E. F. J. Payne, Berghahn Books, p. 165)

Schopenhauer goes on to observe that in a state of compassion for another who is suffering,

…I share the suffering in him, in spite of the fact that his skin does not enclose my nerves. Only in this way can his woe, his distress, become a motive for me…I repeat that this occurrence is mysterious, for it is something our faculty of reason can give no direct account of, and its grounds cannot be discovered on the path of experience.” (On The Basis of Morality, trans. E. F. J. Payne, Berghahn Books, p. 165)

If Schopenhauer is correct in his claim that the “grounds” or basis of compassion “cannot be discovered on the path of experience”, or, in other words, cannot be explained in terms of empirical factors, then this implies that the moral and psychological phenomenon of compassion poses a serious problem for Darwinian or evolutionary approaches to ethics and human psychology.

Schopenhauer argues that compassion presupposes an identification with the person who is suffering and that this implies a temporary abolition or suspension of the “barrier between the ego and non-ego”. (ibid., p. 165)

In holding this view, he seems to be affirming that compassion presupposes a metaphysical identity or oneness of the agent who feels compassion and the person or being the agent feels compassion for.

Indeed, in the section “On The Metaphysical Explanation“, he explicitly upholds that

“…plurality and diversity of individuals are mere phenomenon, that is, exist only in my representation.  My true inner being exists in every living thing…we are all one and the same entity.” (ibid., pp. 210-211)

The problem here is not only the incoherence of the concept of metaphysical identity or oneness of the observer who feels compassion and the victim who is suffering, but also the issue of how we can distinguish between compassion and self-pity on the basis of this alleged foundation of metaphysical oneness or identity of observer and victim.

If I am actually one with the other, then his or her suffering is actually my own suffering. This also implies that in feeling compassion for the other, I am actually feeling compassion for myself. This turns compassion into an exercise in self-pity.

Schopenhauer praises compassion as the very paradigm of the ethical particularly for the reason that it is directed toward the recognition of another being’s woe and the alleviation of that woe, but his affirmation of metaphysical identity or oneness undermines this moral status of compassion and reduces it to an egoistic exercise in  self-pity on a grand metaphysical scale!

Far from explaining compassion, his monistic metaphysical theory explains it away by reducing it to self-pity.

Further, Schopenhauer’s correct view of compassion, i.e., that it is solely directed toward the recognition and alleviation of another being’s woe, obviously implies that his metaphysical theory of identity or oneness of all individuals must be false! Compassion requires not only the recognition of the reality of the other, and, by implication, the reality of the distinction between the self and the other, but also the reality of the suffering experienced by the other.

Schopenhauer’s confusion is evident from the fact that in another passage in the same work he disavows this metaphysical identity or oneness and argues that the observer who feels compassion is still conscious of the difference between the self and the other who is suffering.

The Italian moral philosopher Ubaldo Cassina (1736 – 1824) had argued in his Saggio analitico sulla compassione (Analytical Essay on Compassion) published in 1788 that compassion is a function of a deception or delusion of the imagination in that the observer feels that he is actually undergoing in his own person the suffering of the victim. Since this cannot be real, compassion is based on a delusive state of empathetic identification with the victim.

Schopenhauer rejects Cassina’s analysis of compassion on the grounds that compassion does not abrogate the distinction between the observer’s awareness of his own condition and the victim’s state of suffering. He points out that contrary to Cassina’s claim,

…at every moment we remain clearly conscious that he is the sufferer, not we; and it is precisely in his person, not in ours, that we feel the suffering, to our grief and sorrow. We suffer with him and hence in him; we feel his pain as his, and do not imagine that it is ours.” (On The Basis Of Morality, trans. E.F. J. Payne, Berghahn Books, p. 147)

I think that the metaphysical linchpin of compassion Schopenhauer is searching for is provided by Ramalingam’s concept of soul-kinship.

As I pointed earlier, Ramalingam’s concept of soul-kinship avoids the incoherence of metaphysical identity or oneness of individuals and provides a basis for empathy and compassion.

Kinship presupposes a distinction between the self and the other, but it also implies a close bond or relation between the self and other which explains empathy, compassion, and a sense of unity with someone who is kin.

Hence, Ramalingam’s concept of soul-kinship is the key to the resolution of Schopenhauer’s confusion on the metaphysical basis of compassion.

 

 

 

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