Structure and Process: Integral Philosophy and Triple Transformation by Debashish Banerji

Structure and Process: Integral philosophy and triple transformation

 

Debashish Banerji

 

 

At the forefront of contemporary debates in religious studies is one that pits perennialism against pluralism. The idea of perennialism may be as old as homo sapiens, but its early modern origins in the west can be traced to figures like Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) and Agostino Steuco (1497–1548), Italian Renaissance churchmen and philosophers, who taught the consonance of religious and philosophical ideas and the continuity of these principles from Hermetic, Cabalistic and Platonic sources to Christianity. The term ‘Perennial philosophy’ arose in this milieu, perhaps coined by Steuco and adopted from him by Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). These philosophers extended the idea that there was a core of philosophical principles (transcendental) and ideal values (subjective) which were present throughout human history and in many religions and philosophies.

 

Around the turn of the 19th/20th c., the idea of perennial philosophy revived with some new connotations, influenced by eastern, particularly Vedantic thinking. The mid to late 19th c. American Transcendentalist movement may be seen as preparing the ground for this turn, but a hybrid east-west discourse in perennialism gained greater prominence after the 1893 Parliament for World Religions in Chicago. This event has been seen as the start of the modern interfaith movement and had a strong universalist sentiment behind it. Vivekananda’s speech during this parliament highlighted the idea of Vedantic Transcendentalism, particularly through the Upanishadic image of the many rivers which lose their names and forms in the ocean (Vivekananda 1893, para. 2). The Sanskrit term sanatan dharma soon became privileged as a descriptor of Hinduism tied to Indian nationalist projects. By 1909, we find Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950) using this term, which is close to a literal translation of “perennial philosophy,” as a synonym for Hinduism (Aurobindo, 1997a, p. 3-12). In this version of its use, perennialism refers to a transcendental foundation to reality which renews itself in a variety of experience throughout place and time. Though Aurobindo’s understanding of the sanatan dharma increasingly voiced itself in terms closer to pluralism,[1] the Hindu nationalism which developed around a championing of this term, took its meaning from the privileged transcendentalism of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta. In theU.S., scholars and intellectuals affiliated with the Vedanta centers founded by Vivekananda helped in normalizing the translation of this term in terms of perennialism. In 1940, Aldous Huxley’s compilation “The Perennial Philosophy” (1970) may be thought to have completed this process through its popularity.

 

The publication of Huxley’s book may be seen as the founding moment for the modern scholarly movement of perennialism, one championed overtly or covertly by eminent proponents such as Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998), W. T. Stace (1886-1967), Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) and Huston Smith (1919-). Perhaps the most prominent contemporary proponent of this school is Robert K. C. Forman . Today, the notion of perennialism seems to be the politically correct choice for a liberal spirituality, and as such has a number of connotations: (1) At the popular level, it forms the ‘gospel’ of  ‘New Age’ followers, and in this context, means something vague such as ‘All religions say the same thing’; (2)  Even in Huxley’s book, some of the connotations of the older Renaissance genealogy of ‘Perennial Philosophy’ continue and a number of ‘perennialists’ understand its basis in this form: ‘There is a core of common ethical and spiritual goals; and practices leading to these to be found in many world religions’; (3) The Advaita Vedanta formulation, which has been touched on earlier: ‘All the names and forms through which religions have approached God are names and forms which originate from the single nameless, formless and changeless ocean of Infinite Consciousness’.

 

If we consider these propositions carefully, we see that all of them are problematic in their own ways. Clearly, all religions are not ‘saying the same thing’. If we talk of a core of ethical and spiritual ideals and practices, the question arises on what is to be included and what excluded from this core, as also in which religion or ideology does this core originate and where does it find its best example? Thinking of questions like this makes the contested nature of this proposition evident. As for the proposition that all names and forms of the Divine originate and lose themselves in theoceanofInfinite Consciousness, this is clearly a privileged transcendentalism, a superior truth claim that can and has been contested. Among the schools of Indian Vedanta, for example, it is one of at least three major ontological statuses which claim theistic primacy and Buddhism would not accept it either.

 

The critique of the Perennialist position in modern religious studies comes from a variety of directions, but all of these may be seen as forms of pluralism. Pluralism starts from an empirical and anti-idealist position and refuses to privilege a hegemonic transcendentalism. One strand of this position comes from the theological critique of Inclusivism initiated by Paul Hacker (1913-1979) and furthered by his student Wilhelm Halbfass (1940-2000). Hacker (1983, pp. 11-28) argues that inclusivism is a typically Indian response to the problem of theism and characterizes it as a speaking for the other by co-optation. He sees the transcendental monist standpoint of Advaita Vedanta as a quintessential example of this. Distinct religious identities, histories and soteriologies are erased here in favor of something which subordinates them and swallows them in facelessness.  The problematic nature of this kind of inclusivism is seen more prominently in the developmental hierarchism of Ken Wilber (1949-ref.?), who identifies goals of becoming which are increasingly inclusive and find their culmination in a total systemic inclusion and organization corresponding to a state of nondual transcendence (2000). Wilber calls his system integral, but it is better characterized as inclusive in the sense of inclusivism. This can be contrasted to the integral, as I will try to show later.

 

Pluralist critiques of this kind of perennialism also form a basis for postmodern thinkers, who find it important to preserve the right of Becoming over Being. What Hacker sees as a “typical Indian response,” is characterized by Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) as a “white mythology,” the privileging of Logos or the will to rationality, turned systemic in its post-Enlightenment modern phase, and acting as a denaturing agent attempting to translate all singularities into the terms and taxonomies of a universalist anthropology (1985) or as in the case of Wilber, a transpersonal psychology. The initiating goals of the Enlightenment are seen here as the search for a totalizing systems theory of everything of exactly the kind being proposed by Wilber, arrived at either through Structuralism or through Comparative Studies, leading to a taxonomic organization of knowledge.

 

In these two forms of perennialist inclusivism, that of Advaita Vedanta and of the white mythologies of the Knowledge Academy, we thus find two reductions of the plural – transcendental and universal respectively—one which erases the plural through dissolution and the other which tames the plural through structuration. On the other hand, in considering pluralism, an important approach is the neo-Kantian refusal of ontological realities outside the constructions of language. Each religious tradition, here, would be seen as such a construction with its historically generated corpus of signifiers and the qualitative ontologies relating to these. Even transcendence here would be inextricably bound to a linguistic singularity and retain the flavor of its history and its practices.

 

Are we then left with the perennial and the plural as a binary to which there is no proper resolution? It isn’t that there have been no attempts at dialog. The debate between perennialism and pluralism in our times is perhaps best exemplified in the difference in views between Robert K. C. Forman (1990) and Steven T. Katz (1978, p. 26) (who is a constructivist, holding that mystical experience takes different forms in different religious contexts). Such debates have the benefit of a dialectical engagement, which helps to expand the discourse. To account for differences in articulation of mystical experiences from different religious traditions, Forman has posited the Pure Consciousness Event or PCE, which he claims characterizes an apophatic perennial core to mystical experiences, which is translated subjectively and expressed objectively in a variety of ways. Undoubtedly this is a reduction of the field of mystical experience, and is problematic in this sense, but it is important as an attempt  to resolve of the perennialist/pluralist binary.

 

According to Forman (1998, p.234), the PCE can be subjectively translated in terms of three kinds of experiences: he calls these theistic, monistic and nihilistic. The theistic experience pertains to all religions or sectarian practices which proceed by affective relationship with the Transcendent One. Devotional schools such as Christianity or Vaishnavism could be brought under this rubric. The monistic experience proceeds by attempting to erase all difference and realize an inclusive Unitary Source, or one Reality. Advaita Vedanta is the quintessential example of this kind of realization. The nihilistic experience pertains to a rupture from phenomenal experience and a disappearance into a Transcendental which can only be described in terms of Absence, a negative Theology. Various Buddhist schools could be seen as exemplifying this. Forman, therefore, refuses to privilege any of these schools, but indicates something which forms their transcendental core, but which cannot be named, except in abstract terms, such as PCE. Yet, clearly, there is a reduction here, the plural seen as subordinate and phenomenal, while the perennial becomes the noumenal essence.

 

This brings me to the notion of the integral, which I touched on with respect to Wilber. Wilber, of course, is not the founder of the term “integral,” even in its contemporary philosophical or psychological usage, though his popularization of the term is swiftly turning his use of it hegemonic. In the U.S., the academic precedents for this term can be found in Haridas Chaudhuri (1913-1975) (1974), the philosopher and educationist who founded the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and Pitirim Sorokin (1889-1968), Harvard sociologist who coined the term “integral culture” (1964, p.75). The usage of both these figures can be traced in turn to Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950). The use of the term by Wilber himself can also be traced to Sri Aurobindo, whose definitions and contexts of use are thus instructive to our discussion. Sri Aurobindo uses the term “integral” in two contexts, that of an “integral yoga” (1999, p.118)  and of an “integral consciousness” (2005, p. 358).

 

“Integral Yoga” lays out a process of psychological integration. In his own practice of this process, we find the use of disciplines and goals belonging to a number of Indian spiritual traditions, particularly those related to certain schools of Vaishnavism and Tantra, along with practices taken from the Bhagavad Gita, an older Vedanta and the Veda. On the face of it, this may seem like another instance of the attempt to structure an inclusivistic organization of consciousness, as with Wilber. But the traditions from which Sri Aurobindo developed his transformative psychology can be seen to continue in forms which further their own cultural history in his practice. Moreover, they are not used in an additive way as components towards something which includes them, rather each one may be seen as having been expanded into a version which retains its origins but includes other elements. In this sense, it may be thought of as an enlargement of disciplines along synthetic lines. Such processes of synthetic enlargement are not unique to Sri Aurobindo and continue the “unauthorized” history of Indic spiritual traditions. It is in this sense that Sri Aurobindo’s magnum opus on his yoga is called The Synthesis of Yoga. (1999). In this text, we see enlarged descriptions of different traditional disciplines through a development of their own practices and goals, leading towards a point of convergence in something which he has called the Supermind, characterized by an “integral consciousness” (1999, 114).

 

It should be pointed out in passing that the term “integral yoga” is better known in the west through its trademarked version, taught by Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002). But this compendium of practices is merely additive and cannot be considered as anything more or other than this. From Sri Aurobindo’s description, then, the “integral” in integral yoga pertains to a “process” of integration which completes itself only in the structure of an “integral consciousness.”

 

What then is an integral consciousness and is it anything different from the inclusivistic erasure of histories and the facelessness of a transcendental monism as in Advaita Vedanta? Taken from Sri Aurobindo, I would like to distinguish the integral consciousness of Supermind in terms of two primary features which distinguish it from the inclusivistic structures either of a transcendental monism or a totalistic developmental systems theory. These characteristics are:

(1)   The constituents of an integral consciousness are not merely its parts, assembled into an inclusive organization, but each nameable “part” is also the entire integral being.

(2)   To think an integral consciousness, one must think radical monism and radical pluralism at the same time.

 

Both these premises obey a mathematics of infinity. The first of them is also related to the famous Upanishadic verse on Purna (wholeness) heading the Isha Upanishad (v. 1-2):

 

Purnam adah purnam idam

Purnat purnam udachyate

Puransya purnam adaya

Purnam evavasishyate

 

That is the Whole, this is the Whole,

The whole arises from the Whole

Subtracting the Whole from the Whole

Verily the Whole remains.[2]

 

One could simply replace “whole” by “integral” as described by Sri Auorbindo, in this verse, to arrive at an understanding of the first of the features I have laid out. To contemplate the second, it is necessary to realize that unity and infinity are not logically commensurate categories in a finite mathematics. We may think of one as a numerical instance or a grouping of finites but infinity is non-numerical. To think radical unity and radical infinity at the same time defies the laws of reason, and hence from a Kantian viewpoint, can only be considered empirically transcendental. Hence, even if we aim for such an “impossibility” “processually,” we cannot (and should not) conceive of it “structurally.”

 

Yet this transcendentalism is quite different from a transcendental monism or from a Kantian idealism. By preserving pluralism in its fullness, it is better thought of as a Transcendental Empiricism. In contemporary philosophy, this phrase has been used by Gilles Deleuze (2001, p.25) to describe his condition of direct access to the “virtual field” of Univocity free from conceptual structures but potent with infinite possibility at each of its points and moments. In Deleuze’s case, this “being of sensation” is arrived at through an unhinging of the mind and a return to it from the vantage of immanence. For Sri Aurobindo, one may distinguish such ontology as belonging to a consciousness “beyond” mind and thus available only to structures of becoming not presently available to us. In both cases, this is to be approached “processually” and cannot be grasped “structurally” due to the constraining limits of Reason.

 

If we try to think of examples in spiritual literature describing such an ontology, where the perennial and plural are not reduced to each other, the Infinite not tamed by the Unitary but retaining its disruptive power, we find an instance in Krishna’s vision or darshan in the Bhagavad Gita (XI: 10-46). Throughout the dialog of the Bhagavad Gita, which goes back and forth between Arjuna and Krishna, Arjuna seeks ethical and spiritual conviction for taking arms in this civil war. After many arguments, Arjuna finally questions the authority of Krishna. What is the source of Being and Knowledge which issues this call to Power?  In reply, Krishnabestows on Arjuna “the divine sight,” divyadrishti. Arjuna then sees Krishna’s “supramental” form, the vishwarupa.

 

In this apocalyptic vision, Arjuna views something completely illogical. The Bhagavad Gita describes this in terms of a plural univocity, Something in which radical unity and radical infinity coexist. Arjuna says, “I see before me an infinite radiance extending on all sides, I see all the gods, all the humans, all the sages in your body.”[3] (XI: 15-19) He sees impersonality, personality, the formless, the plethora of possible forms, the past, the present and the future. He sees that which can be expressed and that which cannot be expressed. This excessive plenitude of the Personal Instance tears at his mind, since its logic of the infinite is beyond its structural limits and Arjuna pleads for Krishna to revert to his “four-handed” cosmic form. It’s clear that Arjuna received something he wasn’t prepared for. Sri Aurobindo comments on this in his Essays on the Gita (1997b, pp. 377-395)

 

In trying to think radical unity and radical infinity together, we arrive at an aporia. In the Viswarupa Darshana of Krishna, the Bhagavad Gita parts this aporetic curtain and shows us an image which, as human beings, we cannot cognize. This is not a sundering of the knot of Becoming and a plunge into the trance of Being; neither is it a denial of Being and a revelry in the play of signifiers. This is a living at the margins of the messianic, the aporetic impossibility, where two incommensurable infinities meet. It is only at this horizon of Grace that the structures which are yet to be formed can become established, leading towards the incomprehensible “integral.” This is what the Viswarupa shows us—an evolutionary possibility, an “integral” which has meaning only as emergent process beyond the limits of human capacity, never as pre-conceivable structure.

 

This understanding of the integral as process is to be contrasted with the inevitable misrepresentation of the idea in its entry into the knowledge academy, whether as integral philosophy, integral psychology, integral theology or integral theory. This eventuates because the modern academy is a discourse with its own laws, boundaries and expectations, and whatever enters these boundaries becomes subject to the nomos[4] (Bourdieu 2000, p.96) and doxa[5] (Bourdieu 1977, pp. 164-169) which structure these boundaries. The modern academy is a product of the knowledge drive of the Enlightenment, a will to Knowledge construed in the epistemological key, a totalistic theory of everything representable as absolute rational structure or generative grammar. The modern world is held together by the modern knowledge academy and the world market, ubiquitous and universal structures which develop increasingly transnational “integrated” manifestations subsuming cultures and histories into translated universal commodities and flavors in a realtime systemic archive. “Modern subjects” are in this sense yoked to this enterprise of modernity, as knowledge workers within the walls of the knowledge academy, involved in producing transcendental and universal inclusivistic “white mythologies” (Derrida 1985).

 

This is clearly not the “integral” in the sense in which I have defined it, following Sri Aurobindo. It is an addition and structuration of fragments to make a potentially boundless “universal” fragment with a “transcendental” erasure of all structures beyond it. It is not the whole which is wholly present in each of its parts, nor the plural which cannot be reduced to a finite unity, nor the singular which co-exists with the infinite. This is a difference in kind not a difference in degree. This structuration becomes most dangerous when it becomes a developmental systems theory to classify things, people, classes, races, qualities in terms of their distances and degrees of progress from/to the integral. It becomes a religion worse than other religions because it harbors pretensions towards a totalitarian religion, a comprehensible and predictable Theory of Everything.

 

What Sri Aurobindo’s use of the “integral” implies, then, is a theory of praxis, a plural process with an incomprehensible and aporetic goal, not a structural epistemology. Still, considering Sri Aurobindo’s “metaphysics” of the integral, as carried in The Life Divine (2005) and his outlines of process in The Synthesis of Yoga (1999), one could ask the question as to how such a metaphysics and psychology escapes from being a universal inclusivistic perennialism. To answer these questions, one must situate Sri Aurobindo’s texts in the cross-cultural dialogic context to which they belong. Though this metaphysics and psychology appear to be written for modernist academic reading, they are also translations of an Indic discourse and meant to be considered as methodological interventions in this regard.

 

What translates into philosophy and psychology in an Indic discursive history are darshan and yoga, respectively. According to the norms of that discourse, these two, darshan and yoga, cannot be isolated; they are like two wings of one enterprise which privileges becoming over being, process over structure. Thus it is yoga, a transformative psychology which leads and darshana, the metaphysics, which provides a structural taxonomy and relational logic conducive to the achievement of the telos of yoga. The categories and relations of theoria (darshana) are thus not to be seen as an absolute epistemology, but rather as a practical epistemology subservient to praxis (yoga); or, in other words, both metaphysics and philosophy constitute, between them, a system described through a theory of practice.

 

Metaphysical texts like The Life Divine and psychological ones such as The Synthesis of Yoga need to be seen as preceded by practices and ideas belonging to an Indic cultural discourse. The Life Divine began as a commentary on the Isha Upanishad and translates the core of this text into a metaphysical description and a practical epistemology delineating the philosophical necessity and structural properties of an “integral consciousness” and its relations to Being and Becoming at an individual and cosmic scale. Similarly, The Synthesis of Yoga is preceded by practices and experiences that belong to a variety of Indic yoga traditions and are articulated in terminology belonging to the cultural history of these traditions in his diaries under the title Record of Yoga (2001) The schematic for this practice takes seven lines of synthetic discipline (as discussed above), thus extending a number of yoga lineages, and proceeding synchronically towards an integral consciousness. This simultaneous and synergistic addressing of the different needs and strands of human becoming, aiming each and all together at an integral consciousness, is what makes it an “integral yoga.”

 

Still, there is clearly a conscious and deliberate translation from one discourse to another—from a discourse (pre-modern Indic) which privileges pluralism and process to one (post-Enlightenment modern) which privileges a structural totalism . This is a dialogic move, an attempt to reposition the Indic discourse in a post-Enlightenment academic frame. But such a translation is also a strategic revision of the post-Enlightenment discourse, a privileging of process over structure and of the plural over the unitary (universal) or monistic (transcendental) perennial. It is also a redefinition of the perennial in terms of an integral which refuses to erase the plural or contain it in the form of a boundless finite. Such an integral refuses structural comprehension except as supramental telos contingent on unpredictable and creative evolutionary development.

Yet, in this translation, Sri Aurobindo does not refuse the drive for simplification or abstraction, possible from structural or comparative perspectives on the plural, so long as they are considered provisional forms of becoming and not static structures. Such simplifications can yield new synthetic practices as part of a continuing evolution with its processual possibilities. Approaching the philosophy of the plane of consciousness that can provide the integration of the plural and the unitary, in this key of a theory of process, Sri Aurobindo later formulated his idea of the triple transformation (2005, pp. 922-952). The triple transformation is reminiscent of Forman’s perennialist reduction, but seen as a creative structure of becoming rather than static structures relatively descriptive of a transcendental core.

 

The tripe transformation encompasses three approaches to integration, taken separately and synergistically. Actually, one may say this more properly for two of the approaches, the third being dependent on the achievement of the first two. This third is the supramental or integral transformation, which is based on an ontology of integral consciousness, discussed above (2005, pp. 951-959). The first two, as preparatory stages towards the third, include a personal (2005, pp. 940-944) and an impersonal (or universal) integration (2005, pp. 944-951). The personal integration, known as the “psychic” integration, is aimed at identification with the “deep subjectivity” of an immanent Person, and can thus be thought of as inherently relational and theistic. The impersonal integration, known as the “spiritual” integration, is aimed at identification with universal and transcendental forms of Being and Consciousness and thus can be mapped to Forman’s monistic and nihilistic perennial ontologies. The achievement of both these integrations and their normalization in the wakened (jagrat) personality are considered preparations for the third integration, which, as discussed above, is indescribable and suprarational, conserving simultaneously radical pluralism and radical unitarianism in its universal and transcendental forms.

 

From the above, we can see a relation between Forman’s perennial categories and Sri Aurobindo’s integral consciousness as prepared through the categories of the triple transformation.  But the formula of the triple transformation can only be understood processually, with its final integral stage an aporetic unknowable which can be experienced, if at all, through an evolution beyond the ontology of  mind. The preparation for this evolution, then, requires an aspiration without content and yet a process towards an inclusivity which refuses the erasure of plurality. With this in mind, we can consider Forman’s reduction of the perennial to the theistic, monistic and nihilistic, and the relationship of these categories to Sri Aurobindo’s triple transformation in terms of three dimensions of spiritual experience.

 

The theistic dimension of immanence is the depth dimension, the monistic inclusivism may be considered the width dimension and the nihilistic transcendentalism can be considered the height dimension. These are the three dimensions of mystical mind space. The depth dimension is that which plunges us into the deepest or innermost being within us. This is the immanent divine, the psychic being or true person in each human being. This hidden subject is the source of a process of internal integration, an alignment of body, life and mind through a one-pointed theistic exclusivism. But this can simultaneously move towards a dialogic universalization, leading towards the transpersonal and impersonal, an identity with the width dimension. The width dimension is the cosmic consciousness, it is everywhere, spatially pervasive; one can think of a cosmic or universal physical existence, a cosmic or universal life-energy or vitalism, a cosmic or universal ideation or mental existence. The extreme realization of such a cosmic consciousness would be a spatialized inclusivism, the absolute systemic structural epistemology sought secretly by the “white mythology” of the Enlightenment (or it temporal extension, the post-Enlightenment academy). Of course, the Academy seek this as structured information archive, but in subjective space, this inclusivistic cosmic consciousness is given by Sri Aurobindo the name of Overmind. Beyond the structural Monism of Overmind is the transcendental Monism of Sacchidananda, the nameless, formless, causeless and timeless ocean into which all individual and universal categories are swallowed and erased. This can also be seen as a Nihilism, since it is Absolute and relationless and experienceable only in a trance of Exclusion.

 

Though Forman asserts a common “perennial” transcendental core to these three dimensions, clearly there are discontinuities between these as experienceable by mind-constrained creatures, due to the exclusivism of their categories, including an exclusive monistic inclusivism. A pure or exclusive theism loses both the relative and pure monisms. This can be asserted for each dualistic school of practice. Similarly, a pure or exclusive monism/nihilism loses the theism of the psychic being as well as the relative monism of Overmind. Yet, as indicated earlier, the psychic being can expand its theism dialogically, moving towards the inclusive pluralism of Overmind. Though this may be thought of as a taming of the plural, a boundless finite rather than a radical infinity which co-exists with a radical unity, such a universalized monistic theism may be thought of as a preparation for the aporetic supermind. Refusing both an exclusive theism and an exclusive monism as forms of telos, one may approximate to this human correlate of supermind as a horizon opening to a yet nameless horizon. This purveyor of the unthinkable integral becomes the philosophical telos which magnetizes our becoming, the fourth dimension which gathers to itself the three dimensions of mystic mind without erasing them or their singularities, and capable of projecting them individually and exclusively as dimensional spaces of experience.

 

Thus, there is no “proper order” to the process leading to Supermind. Nor is there a “proper tradition.” One may approach from any tradition, but one must have a will to the integral, as that which is plural, cosmically inclusive and transcendental all at once, without the erasure by any of any of these states. Such an aporetic and unthinkable experience can be an evolutionary telos, approachable from any tradition as starting point. As part of the Enlightenment’s academic drive to discover an integral anthropology, we can consider the building of this transhuman/posthuman trajectory through an archive of practices and  a phenomenology of experiences, that respect these three dimensions of mystical space as the precursor to arriving at integrality. It is when our language culture changes to a point where we can express these dimensions of experience synthetically and can envisage the aporetic horizon in the currency of communication that we can tell ourselves that we are approaching the gates of an integral psychology or an integral philosophy. Before that, not to see it as an incalculable process aimed at the unthinkable, is nothing if not dangerous.

 

References

 

 

Aurobindo, Sri. (1997a). “Karmayogin,” The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (Volume 8). Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

————- (1997b).  “Essays on the Gita,” Ch: X & XI, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (Volumes 19). Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

————- (1999).  “The Synthesis of Yoga,” The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (Volumes 23 and 24). Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

————- (2001).  “Record of Yoga,” The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (Volumes 10 and 11). Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

————- (2005).  “The Life Divine,” The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (Volumes 21 and 22). Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

 

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XI. Retrieved June 7, 2012 from http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/chapter-11.html

 

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977 [1972]. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Trans. R. Nice,Volume 16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

————– (2000). Pascalian Meditations. Trans. R. Nice, Stanford: Stanford University Press

 

Chaudhuri, Haridas. (1974). Being, Evolution and Immortality: An Outline of Integral Philosophy. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House.

 

Deleuze, Gilles. (2001). “Immanence: A Life” in Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life. Trans. Anne Boyman. New York: Zone Books.

 

Derrida, Jacques. (1985). Margins of Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 

Forman, Robert K. C., 1990. The Problem of Pure Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press.

_——–. (1998). The Innate Capacity: Mysticism, Psychology and Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.

 

Hacker, Paul. (1983). “Inclusivism” in G. Oberhammer ed. Inclusivismus: Ein Indische Denkform. Vienna,

 

Huxley, Aldous. (1970). The Perennial Philosophy. New York: Harper & Row.

 

Isha Upanishad. Retrieved June 7, 2012 from http://www.swamij.com/upanishad-isha-purna.htm.

 

Katz, S., 1978. ‘Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism’, in S. Katz (ed.), Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press, pp.22-74.

 

Sorokin, Pitirim. (1964). Basic Trends of our Times. New Have, CT: College and University Press.

 

Wilber, Ken. (2000). A Brief Theory of Everything. Boston and New York: Shambhala.

 

Vivekananda, Swami. (1893). In Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 1) (1907). Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. Retrieved June 06, 2012 from http://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_1/addresses_at_the_parliament/v1_c1_response_to_welcome.htm

 

 

BIO

Debashish Banerji  is the Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Indian Studies at the University of Philosophical Research, Los Angeles. He is an adjunct faculty member in Art History at the Pasadena City College; and in Asian and Comparative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), San Francisco. From 1991 to 2006, Banerji served as President of the East West Cultural Center, Los Angeles. He is presently the Executive Director of Nalanda International, Los Angeles. Banerji has curated a number of exhibitions in Indian and Japanese art and is the author of two books, The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore (Sage, 2010) and Seven Quartets of Becoming: A Transformative Yoga Psychology Based on the Diaries of Sri Aurobindo (DKPW and Nalanda International, 2012).

 

 


[1] See, for example, Aurobindo (2005, pp. 904-906).

[2] Author’s translation.

[3] Loose translation by author.

[4] Term used by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) to refer to the written or unwrtitten constitutional law of a field; “principle of vision and division.”

[5] Term used by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to denote what is taken for granted in any society; the experience by which “the natural and social world appears as self-evident.”

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6 thoughts on “Structure and Process: Integral Philosophy and Triple Transformation by Debashish Banerji

  1. Kepler says:

    Nice article DB. You referenced a mathematical conception of infinity, and you may already know this, but in set theory the definition of an infinite set is a set that can be put into one-to-one correspondence with a subset of itself. Thus somehow any portion of an infinite set is just as large as the whole set itself. I’ve always found that a highly suggestive formulation. Likewise the mathematical concept of an “Integral” as being (informally) a single value arrived at by adding an infinite number of things together. The opposition and relationship between continuity (the infinite) and discreteness (the finite) that runs through mathematics has the same flavor as the perennial/plural, universal/particular, unitary/diverse distinctions that the abstracting human intellect butts against everywhere. Sri Aurobindo of course describes this opposition as a characteristic of the dividing intellect being a product of the cosmic Ignorance, only to be reconciled in the higher consciousness above mind (ultimately in the Supermind). The best the intellect can do is try to adopt a very subtle conception of integrality that helps orient itself towards an experience of integral Consciousness free from such limitations. As you point out, if instead a rigid conception of integrality is adopted (e.g. as something that artificially subordinates or obliterates plurality), it can lead to falsehood and become dangerous.

    DB: “The modern world is held together by the modern knowledge academy and the world market, ubiquitous and universal structures which develop increasingly transnational “integrated” manifestations subsuming cultures and histories into translated universal commodities and flavors in a realtime systemic archive.”

    As you know, I have a less gloomy perspective on this particular topic. Certain results of the knowledge-academy/world-market such as putting commodities like antibiotics, cell phones, water purifiers, etc. into people’s hands around the globe, don’t seem to have harmfully subsumed cultures and histories in return. I agree that whatever the mixed results of the current knowledge-academy/world-market may be, it has little or nothing to do with the concept of an Integral Consciousness that Sri Aurobindo described and beckons us towards. But it is possible to see something of the interrelationship of the universal (common human needs/desires) and the particular (diverse human cultures/histories) at work there also.

    DB: “Thus, there is no proper order to the process leading to Supermind. Nor is there a proper tradition. One may approach from any tradition, but one must have a will to the integral, as that which is plural, cosmically inclusive and transcendental all at once, without the erasure by any of any of these states.”

    Well said.

    Kepler

  2. debbanerji says:

    kepler,
    thanks for mathematical concept of infinite set and integral. re. your other comment on the knowledge academy and the world market –

    k: As you know, I have a less gloomy perspective on this particular topic. Certain results of the knowledge-academy/world-market such as putting commodities like antibiotics, cell phones, water purifiers, etc. into people’s hands around the globe, don’t seem to have harmfully subsumed cultures and histories in return. I agree that whatever the mixed results of the current knowledge-academy/world-market may be, it has little or nothing to do with the concept of an Integral Consciousness that Sri Aurobindo described and beckons us towards. But it is possible to see something of the interrelationship of the universal (common human needs/desires) and the particular (diverse human cultures/histories) at work there also.

    db: post-enlightenment “integrality” of knowledge-academy and world-market (increasingly, the new field of civilizational studies is introducing the idea of an “integration phase” in the development of epochs in civilizations) is premised on advancement of material technologies and their marketing/consumption. my mentioning this does not make my “take” on it “gloomy,” i can see the advantages, promises and unprecedented possibilities opened up by this episteme. but i see also the dangers of uncritical acceptance, since to speak of “commodities such as cell phones, antibiotics and water purifiers” is rather obvious. less obvious is the technological determinism and privileging this implies – the triumphalist narrative of modernity which runs roughshod over cultural difference, either leveling to homogeneity or assimilating to cultural capital as flavors of uniformity. i am not implying the rejection of technical advancement but the empowerment of cultural agency in its critical and creative engagement fostering heterogeneity.

  3. Kepler says:

    I guess I’ve noticed in your writings generally (not just in this article) a lot of stressing the threats and dangers of global techno-capitalism, and not much mention of occasional benefits (maybe you consider those go without saying) – hence my “gloomy” characterization.

    Warnings of the “dangers of uncritical acceptance” are of course quite sound. Contemporary India seems a good example – India’s embrace of global techno-capitalism in recent decades has helped deliver a much needed boost in material infrastructure and living standards (for many, though not all). But the corresponding opening to hyper-consumerism and hedonism a la western societies is not a pleasant sight. Since some new synthesis is obviously needed, one can hope India helps hew a path…

    My comment on the universal/particular distinction in this context was that there are universal needs/desires of humans that may be appropriately met in a certain uniform manner (antibiotics, cell phones, etc). But at the same time the rich diversity of culture (human particularity) must not be subjected to uniformity due to the obvious loss involved (e.g. the spiritual richness of India under a flood of consumerism). So again, the universal and particular are simultaneously true and active, though our mind can’t easily embrace both at once, and is always subject in practice to the danger of trying to squash one with the other.

  4. richi rich says:

    K: contemporary India seems a good example – India’s embrace of global techno-capitalism in recent decades has helped deliver a much needed boost in material infrastructure and living standards (for many, though not all).

    R: Actually Kep I’d say there needs to be a little critical thought brought to bear on this issue.

    While globalization has brought benefits for portions of the world population, it certainly has not for others. I know many people in Detroit, and other portions of the American rust belt who lost manufacturing jobs that will provide witness testimony to the negative impacts of globalization on the American middle class.

    Regards your claims of the benefits for India of global techno-capitalism, I would argue that the vast majority of India’s population have not been boosted not at all. In India there has been 250,000 farmers suicides mostly in the monsanto belt in the 15 year period between 1995 and 2010 many of which can be attributed to the use of genetically modified bt cottonthat is the Monsanto fruit of global techno-capitalism.

    http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/sainath/article2577635.ece

    37% of one billion people live below India’s poverty line (or less than $1.25 per day)
    Hundreds of thousands of villagers have been displaced by huge hydroelectric projects to support the insatiable craving for energy that come with globalization. There is an active Maoist insurgency triggered in part because of inequality but also in part to huge Indian corporations that participate in the global economy , attempting to steal the land of villagers under the sign of the Bauxite mine.

    In fact perhaps not too much more than 1% of India’s population directly participates in the wave of global techno-capitalism that lifts the boots of technology entrepreneurs, microserfs, call center workers -who often work in conditions that no American would accept-. Many of these Indian beneficiaries (as well as their taxable income) dont even remain in India but move to America, Australia, Europe to exploit globalization for its maximum income potential.

    There has been little corresponding benefit for the Indian infrastructure. Have you tried to get from one end of Bangalore or Mumbai to the other lately?. It may take up to several hours because the highway infrastructure can not support the population. Moreover, the politicians stoking the flames of globalization in India are often highly corrupt and the money simply does not trickle down for the public good.

    Here are some other facts regards an uncritical stance on globalization:

    Almost half the world — over 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.
    * The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined.
    * Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
    * Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
    * 1 billion children live in poverty (1 in 2 children in the world). 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).

    http://www.globalissues.org/issue/2/causes-of-poverty …..

    Sri Aurobindo was no Social Darwinist and I certainly dont see him reveling in the evolution of civilization facilitated by global techno-capitalism while simply choosing to ignore the rest of the world’s misery that globalization has done little to alter and its fair share to exacerbate.

    While it is popular to see Sri Aurobindo’s work as signaling a progressive evolution of mankind – a detail I would seriously take issue with- in India and the Third World the progress of Science and global techno-capitalism has often been synonymous with hegemony and violence as Ashis Nandy, Vandana Shiva, Shiv Vishvanatam and many other post-colonial scholars have argued:

    http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/hegemony-nandy.pdf

  5. Kepler says:

    R: “Regards your claims of the benefits for India of global techno-capitalism, I would argue that the vast majority of India’s population have not been boosted not at all.”

    Not sure how you would quantify “vast majority”, but all the data I can find show along with huge GDP growth in India, a sizeable growth in the middle-class percentage, and decrease in the poverty percentage since economic liberalization (starting about 1991). Note that a decrease in the poverty percentage is not a claim that poverty is no longer a problem. Anecdotally, I’ve been to Chennai many times since then and at a glance the general infrastructure improvement seems obvious. People I know who live there describe such things as a huge increase in the number of homes with a basic air conditioner.

    Would you suggest that overall living standards would be higher today in India if they had not embraced economic liberalization?

    In any event who here has suggested “an uncritical stance on globalization”, or a “reveling” in global techno-capitalism? A balanced critical view should include both its benefits and its defects. Claims that there have been no benefits at all just seem to me empirically suspect – although everyone is welcome to their view.

  6. richi rich says:

    K: Not sure how you would quantify “vast majority”, but all the data I can find show along with huge GDP growth in India, a sizeable growth in the middle-class percentage, and decrease in the poverty percentage since economic liberalization (starting about 1991).

    R: Well GDP is a notoriously erroneous factor for judging a countries well being since the figure includes wars, natural disasters, crime (cost of replacing property) car accidents, and health care cost are among the figures included. In fact all financial transactions are seen as neutral and not viewed as either good or bad. The statistics show however, that income inequality in the GDP boom years has doubled since the globalization period. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-16064321

    Regards the sizable middle class it is sizable because the country has 1.1 billion people. In fact the size of the middle class population is only around 50 million or about 5% of the population from 2005- 2007 according to McKinsey & Co.

    http://world.time.com/2011/05/24/damn-statistics-top-five-false-figures-that-mean-we-get-the-world-wrong/

    http://indiantake.blogspot.com/2010/01/size-of-india-middle-class.html

    Moreover what is considered in America middle class would be considered near poverty in comparison in India. India’s per capita income (nominal) is $ 1219, ranked 142nd in the world,[1] while its per capita purchasing power parity (PPP) of US $3,608 is ranked 129th.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_in_India

    One in three malnourished children worldwide are found In India, whilst 42 percent of the nation’s children under five years of age are underweight. As I stated earlier 37% and probably as many as 42% live under 1.25 dollars per day,

    Given India’s poor rankings in per capita income category, and the general social economic dysfunction of the country I think one can assert that in fact that the vast majority of the population have not been boosted very much at all by globalization. In fact there is a claim made that 100 million have been raised out of poverty in India (aka earning less than 1.25 per diem) but at least another 300 to 400 million remain.

    http://www.cfr.org/india/inequalities-asias-giants/p14706

    K”Anecdotally, I’ve been to Chennai many times since then and at a glance the general infrastructure improvement seems obvious. People I know who live there describe such things as a huge increase in the number of homes with a basic air conditioner.

    R: Well anecdotally my experience of Bangalore, Chennai or Pondicherry prior to 1991 (year of globalization initiation) were far better places to live then at their present bulging at the seems daily life. But I certainly would agree its better to have an air conditioner if you live in those places too

    K:Would you suggest that overall living standards would be higher today in India if they had not embraced economic liberalization?

    R: Well that one can not be answered because besides the Nehruvian corrupt state socialist model there has been nothing to compare it with. Gandhi’s utopian agrarian society experiment was never tried and while it may not have succeeded, the fact that a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide in the past 15 years is an indicator to me that living standards in India are as much to be denounced as lauded

    K:In any event who here has suggested “an uncritical stance on globalization”, or a “reveling” in global techno-capitalism? A balanced critical view should include both its benefits and its defects. Claims that there have been no benefits at all just seem to me empirically suspect – although everyone is welcome to their view.

    R: Heartily agree with you here Kep, my typical bully pulpit ramblings were supplied in response to the assertion that “India’s embrace of global techno-capitalism in recent decades has helped deliver a much needed boost in material infrastructure and living standards”
    although you did qualify it by stating: “(for many, though not all).”

    I certainly dont believe that there has not been any benefits of the new economy in India, there has been a lot of change for the better, but by in large the benefits have been enjoyed by certain segments of the population and have not trickled down to the multitude.

    My research into the matter of globalization on India is a particular mixed bag, in which a multi billionaire can build a 27 story skyscrapers as a monument to his own egoism,to house only their own family in the same town that has the largest slum in Asia. That India’s billionaires are increasing almost exponentially in the face of the nations overwhelming abject poverty where “one in three malnourished children worldwide are found In India, whilst 42 percent of the nation’s children under five years of age are underweight” is of course for me is nothing short of moral and spiritual bankruptcy.

    The fact that income inequality has doubled over the globalization period indicates to me that far more people have missed the techno-capitalist boat than have been lifted up. (btw the growth of income inequality in America is also as dismal in the global techno-capitalist period.

    >From 1992 to 2007 the top 400 earners in the U.S. saw their income increase 392% and their average tax rate reduced by 37%.[18] The share of total income in America going to the top 1% of American households (also after federal taxes and income transfers) increased from 11.3% in 1979 to 20.9% in 2007.< But by all means you are correct what is called for to properly assess the situation is as you say a balanced view which I believe to be not an either/or argument for one position or the other but rather a complex, nuanced socio-economic analysis undertaken with a critical self-awareness of the assumptions one brings to the table.

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