Weltanschauung and the Nature of Self

Introduction

The more individualistic a society is, the more objectivized is its worldview. The more deeply one looks inside oneself, the more resolutely one looks at things external to oneself. This attitude about objectifying the world has produced many great innovations in science, but ultimately our connection with others and the world has suffered.

Nothing is said about the impact on the world of this scientistic attitude. With feelings of superiority and invincibility, with this inward looking hyper-individualism, personal characteristics become paramount. These judgments of moral stature depend on these individualistic attitudes. Because of hyper-individualism, this self- identification is turned outward and objectified. It is similar to what is had in psychology, in the case of reactive formation, but on a more general level, which can impact overall society. This objectification includes attitudes about race, class, gender, and specie, often attributing the worst moral qualities inherent in ones being to others.

Science and Myth

How has the position of hyper-individualism evolved? The cornerstone of science is that all things must be objectified so they can then be quantified. For example if one were to measure the distance to Alpha Centauri, one would construct a triangle measuring the distance between two points on the earth and then triangulate them to find the difference in apparent position of Alpha Centauri in space. One could, through the angle derived, find the distance. This strategy would use tools that existed in the real world, but are ultimately the measure of ideas (e.g., ideas of triangles) using our cognitive space (e.g., the mind) that provides the objectification of spatially disparate entities, in this case the earth and Alpha Centauri.

This objectification in science, with this cognitive space, finds its foundation in the Occident in an objectified God, who dwells in the otherworld or transcendent realm, where He judges and then punishes us and rewards us at his whim. Religious affectations are not necessary for cognitive attitudes. For example the Pythagorean School was originally a mystical cult in ancient times, but now its mathematics are simply used as a useful way of solving problems.

With a personal monotheistic, God we are separate from him, and his actions upon us are tendered, based on our separateness, which his existence delineates. In his transcendent realm, he determines the nature of all thing as his creation; the freedom of humans as an intended outcome of his divine magnificence. It is this independence that determines our freedom to choose in all things, including whether to accept his existence; or to deny him in a sinful act, to reject him. Because we are separate from him and can freely act, we are able to objectify the world.

Occidental Creation Myths and Metaphysics

The philosopher Aristotle (1) refers to that which is primary as the unmoved mover. This attitude results in a dualistic structure of ontology. Aristotle’s God is the prime mover and therefore is uncreated. If there was a creator that created this prime mover (e.g., God), then that God too must to have a creator and so on resulting in an infinite regress or a circular reasoning. Because of Gods ability to create himself, it is easy to draw the conclusion that God is omnipotence, and with omnipotence comes omniscience and omnipresence.

According to believers, in Occidental culture God is perfection. It is my claim that while many do not believe in God as a anthropomorphic entity and reject God, this does not negate the cultural attitude of objectification, individualism and its correlates which are deeply imbedded in culture, that serve as the foundation for capitalism.

Since this God must be unique and permanent, how then must one account for the fact that the world exists separate from the creative impulses of God?  In order to find this, incommensurateness must be found between the thing that creates and the thing that is created. In order for the world to be an object of Gods creation, it must be radically different or rather, in its nature must be completely dissimilar where the Godly realm is spiritual (non-temporal and non-spatial), unlike the Gods of Mount Olympus, and the material realm is that which is spatial and temporal. This positioning, in turn, gives humans the physical and cognitive space, including the freedom to be creative.

This special position of humans is not only as the caretakers of the inert and objectified earth, but are also its exploiters. The predestination of the world results in a sort of lack of accountability, in seeming contradiction to our freedom, and often there is talk in Christian circles about the end times. Nevertheless humans are considered free, and freedom is especially important to Abrahamic culture because of the slavery of the Jews in Egypt and the abuse of the early Christians.

The world becomes a theatre where one acts to establish their credibility in the eyes of the infinite for their entry into heaven along the side of God. The earth is the final way station, unlike in Hinduism, the impersonal God where transmigration occurs. So while we have freedom to act, because of our separation from God, we also are bound by Gods dictates to achieve everlasting life, where life in the world is somehow incomplete. Because of this we have an imperative to act. This serves to buttress our objectification of personality.

The morays traditionally accepted by Occidental societies are not particular to those who are religious but are adopted by Occidental culture in general. We have the ability to be ethical creatures, unfortunately while it is asserted that we have choice, and therefore the capacity to be moral creatures, nearly all tread like cattle to the slaughter.

Individuality

God then is the ultimate spirit whose creative instincts bring life to the universe. There is usually no direct bond posited between God and the world (although weather conditions are sometimes attributed to Gods wrath), except through the Holy Ghost or spirit, which dwells among us. Yet somehow, as Saint Augustine argued, it is the light of God, which sheds light to our minds, where we can then have productive thought (2) that leads us out of the metaphorical darkness. Like a flashlight showing us the way, it is the spirit of God that illuminates our minds enabling us to objectify and quantify things around us. This seems to be primarily the way divine nature finds its way into the world through the intellect. Yet how this connection occurs seems unclear.

Not unlike Augustine, Descartes searched for a basis for thought that emphasized the mind or spirit. Descartes asserted that the way we can know the world without doubt is to find an epistemological basis for certainty of what is perceived (3). This is accomplished by finding an irrefutable basis that the senses are reliable. He begins with his famous cogito I think therefore I am. Like Augustine, with the divine nature of heavens, and the mundane realm of matter, Descartes posits the idea of the separation of mind and body in what is classically called dualism.

By using the Cartesian method one can show without a doubt (ostensibly) that the way things are perceived in the world are known reliably and beyond doubt. These windows of perception (e.g., the eyes, ears, smell) are reliable and can be used in the analysis of the world and therefore knowledge can be acquired through objectification.  This proof of the validity of objectification is the primary contribution Descartes makes to epistemology and provides a foundation of certainty for scientific proofs, and scientific law based on observation and experience.

While Descartes method works well when demonstrating the reliability of observations, for example, using triangles to finding the distance to Alpha Centauri, an epistemological claim, this method tells us nothing about the nature of the relationship between mind and body (e.g., a metaphysical claim). Using this method we can have practical knowledge about the world, but we have no idea about how the mind and body interact. This is primary problem for Descartes metaphysics, which calls into question his epistemology.

Some may claim that the nature of mind and body are not essential in Descartes method, perhaps he was attempting to placate the clerical powers that be. The scientist exemplifies the creative impulse that identifies, cogitates, evaluates, and formulates theories, quanta, paradoxes and scientific laws, superimposed on the objectified world. This sort of examination is made possible by the inspirited self, directed outward or objectified on the seemingly dead or spiritless world. Like the light of Augustine’s flashlight providing cognitive space to know the world, this inspiration in oneself provides us the ability to objectify and therefore quantify existence.

But when one looks at the mind and body one sees two things that are incommensurate. We have the body, which is spatial and temporal, and the mind which is aspatial and atemporal. The two things are opposites and in some ways diametrically opposed. How can these two disparities matter commingle with spirit at all? And if they cannot commingle, how can we say that they interact at all? Where is the point where mind enters and directs matter? In a more general way one might ask, how can the world be objectified at all? Descartes tries to explain this interaction of the two via the route of the pineal gland.

Occidental Culture

Descartes objectification can be applied to provide a light of certainty on the thing being perceived and processes that which were previously unknown. In Occidental culture, the primary creation story in the bible is that God gave Adam dominion over the earth, being the creation of the divine and holy God. This objectification often results in valuing the things that are inspirited over the things that essentially in their nature are devoid of spirit, or are viewed as simply objects (e.g., the world) It is this creation story that brings about our relationship between ourselves and the world. Our assumed relationship between ourselves and God or ones attitudes about science, results in objectification of self. This objectification results in a sort of determinateness in our Weltanschauung or worldview.

In our technocracy, scientism stands as a testament to human’s greatness as inspired beings. There are elements of arrogance in this attitude though. This arrogance has consequences. We now see that the world is warming, and life itself is in danger. This global warming is the result largely of fossil fuel emissions, which has resulted in the rising of the sea level, increasingly toxic air, as well as changes in climate. Because of the advances in science, the population continues to grow, as waste disposal becomes a bigger and bigger problem. Species are becoming extinct because of the displacement of natural habitats and the global ecosystem is thrown into jeopardy. Extracting natural resources has caused the fowling of the air, water from many pollutants including heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and other destructive elements.

Truth is more than solving practical problems. So is this scientific certainly really a benefit to the world at large? Is another way of looking at the world possible?

Indian Metaphysics (4)

At least from a metaphysical perspective, dualism seems indefensible. The scientist takes the position if it works then it is true. Truth is traditionally thought to refer to an ideal, and not something that can be demonstrated through quantification in science. But this pragmatic view about truth does not validate the objectivist’s perspective in science. Talking about how things work, tells us little about the big picture of how things are. Attempts in science are always made to find a final all-inclusive theory but this always fails.

The only other possible alternative to dualism must be non-dualism.  The predominant non-dualist was named Shankara, a mystic in the 8th century in India. In defense of yoga he formalized the system of Advaita Vedanta. Under this system all that is, is Brahman (God). Both the self and the non-self is Brahman. The Brahman within, called Atman, is Brahman as well. In fact all is Brahman according to Hinduism. Ultimately there is no individual self.

Under this ultimate formulation there is no individuality. There is essentially no subjectivity. The changes one sees in the material world are simply the result of illusion.  All life follows Dharma or cosmic law. But ironically in a sort of inversion of materialism in the Occident, that which is most real is the spiritual, while the seeming existence of material is simply a form of error or ignorance (e.g., Maya).

This is counterintuitive. That which is most real seems not to be (e.g., spirit) and that which seems to be most real is not (e.g., the material). While this position may surmount the problem of the mind and body, where the spirits come into the body through the pineal gland to form some sort of odd intermingling, this presentation of Advaita Vedanta seems to have another problem, that is, how does one come to see the spirit as matter and why? Why is this the source of so much error? When someone sees water in the desert where it is dry land, or mistakes a rope for a snake, why are people so often mistaken?

It is clear that it is difficult to find the sensory thread linking ontological Being to individual identity and the resulting social structure whether it is Occidental thought or Hinduism. But ultimately the true metaphysical reality may be irrelevant when ones ideas about self are based on creation myths.

Living in Occidental culture, we have a plethora of knowledge, which depends on the theory of dualism. This has an ancillary effect on ones self-identity and social structure. While dualism and Advaita Vedanta non-dualism, form a philosophical standpoint, both seem indefensible and both rely on skilled apologists. The myths that one is presented about the nature of the otherworld, this world and the stories of ethics and morays abound and inform ones beliefs, character, and by extension, societies structure.

Because of the disparate contradictions between the beliefs of reality as being dualistic or non-dualistic, it seems clear that Indian and Occidental philosophical systems vary substantially, and the impact on social structure is pronounced. For example in India we have the caste system, while in the occident we have the upwardly mobile, supposedly, class system. In Indian thought ones place in society is due to ones karma and one has many lifetimes to work that out. The true nature of reality (either monistic or pluralistic) brings little to bear on individuality or social structure, and that these characteristics, in both India and the Occident, depends on the beliefs we tell ourselves. These stories rest heavily on the ones theory of the nature of reality.

In Indian thought, since all lies in the spiritual realm, the physical world is a place where one works out ones divine nature, where finally this spiritual karma can be released and then can escape rebirth. There seems to be no emphasis or a moral judgment on worldly existence as being separate from the eternal, and transmigration is the attempt of the soul to remediate karma, and eventually escape rebirth. On the other hand, in Occidental culture, the world serves as a proving ground for righteousness and fealty to God.

Individuality and Social Structure

Because we are completely dissimilar to God like mind/matter is different in the theory of dualism, our nature is the image of the fallen from grace. We live in a capitalistic society where we pay lip service to survival of the fittest where God favors those who can achieve and survive. With hyper-individualism, which is ever increasing in intensity in modern day US culture, class prerogative is thought of as being a sign of the blessings of God bestowed on the virtuous. Selfishness rules the day. Objectivizing this attitude of empowerment and superiority (a value judgment) those less blessed are looked upon as being aligned with evil. The poor unfortunates are often looked on as little more than stupid, ugly, worthless, lazy, as well as possessing other dehumanizing characteristics.

The divine characteristics are moral in nature, and demonstrate the evil of the physicality of the lower classes over the beauty and grace of the well to do. This moral degradation with its repulsive physicality is applied to groups dissimilar to those that possess the qualities of purity, brilliance, and power. In the case of Occidental culture, and the US in particular, these qualities of purity, are most often attributed to the wealthy landed white elite. The elite are the best educated and their ability to think, the most highly valued trait in humans, gives them the ability to rationalize their prerogatives.

With the objectification by the elite of their own self-identity with their supposed inspired minds, they can project their own worst qualities outward toward these unfortunates. Like God finding a distinction between his divinity and his mundane creation, the objectivized are often thought of as being of less value and are often discriminated against, imprisoned or often left to die when homeless. It is common to blame the victim for their plight, especially for not following Gods laws, encoded in Occidental law, while embracing evil.

With this attitude, not only are the elite not responsible for the well being of these unfortunates, but also their bias is used through objectification to further buttress the elites moral prerogatives. The forms of discrimination are many, especially racism, classism, sexism and even involve attitudes about nature including species. Without addressing the culture of hyper-individuality and objectification, the planets bounty will become spoiled. Even more important, perhaps, is rigidified world-views, especially those reinforced by the elitists, giving the less fortunate little freedom to assert ones values and goodness in life, because ones righteousness depends on the ability to make virtuous choices.

 

Notes

1)  Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosopy.Retrieved on November 28, 2012 from  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-natphil/#5

2) But distinct from [the objects of the intellect] is the light by which the soul is illumined, in order that it may see and truly understand everything, either in itself or in the light. For the light is God himself, whereas the soul is a creature; yet, since it is rational and intellectual, it is made in his image. And when it tries to behold the Light, it trembles in its weakness and finds itself unable to do so. Yet from this source comes all understanding it is able to attain.Augustine. Bourke, V., Compiler, The Essential Augustine. (Hackett Publishing Company: Indianapolis 1974). Page 97

3)  Descartes, R.,Meditations. in The Rationalists.  Veitch, J trans (Doubleday: New York 1990) 99-175

4)  Radhakrishnan, S., Moore, C., Vedanta in  A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. (Princeton University Press: New Jersey 1957) pages 506-572

 

Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching

Who is Lao Tzu and What is the Tao Te Ching?

Philosophical Taoism and The Way and its Power

Understanding Taoism is a way to know the nature of reality. Acting naturally, as in the Tao, one becomes ethical and effective.

To discuss Taoism is not a simple thing. Taoism branches into 3 sub-headings, Philosophical Taoism, Religious Taoism, and Taoist Yoga, which includes the martial art Tai Chi Chuan. The Taoism that will be discussed is Philosophical Taoism, which is the subject matter of the Tao Te Ching. The Tao Te Ching is a collection of poetic works, where the nature of the ultimate, the cosmic, and the individual in the world are explained.

The Legend of Lao Tzu

As legend would have it in the 6th century B.C. Lao Tzu lived in Zhou, and was the Imperial Librarian. He had grown weary of moral decay. Upon retirement he left Zhou heading toward what now is Tibet, and was stopped at Hankao Pass by a gatekeeper.

The gatekeeper asked Lao Tzu that before he passed; would he write down what he thought was important in life, in a contribution to humanity. So in a matter of a few days he wrote the Tao Te Ching and was allowed to pass.

The Way and Its Power

The writing came to be known as the Tao Te Ching or in English The Way and Its Power. Under this philosophical system, there are three conceptual elements which constitute everything. First is Non-Being, second Being, and third what Taoism calls the 10,000 things, meaning all of the differentiated things in the world.

In Taoism, with Non-Being or pure potentiality, necessarily comes pure actuality (e.g., Being), where when things come into existence (e.g., Being) they are bifurcated into the 10,000 things. Finally, out of the 10,000 things comes the singularity of the individual. Taoism is ultimately an attempt to explain how the individual finds their place in the world, and how one is to be ethical and therefore effective.

Taoism and Yin/Yang

Under Taoism, in the world all things interact in a sort of dualism calledYin/Yang, where the two principles are in a process of transformation, sometimes even becoming their opposites. Examples of these two principles include the following:

  • light/dark,
  • heaven/earth
  • male/female
  • mountains/valleys

Ultimately the two aspects are bound together. Because of this dualism qualities are intricately bound. Beauty cannot exist without ugliness, or strength without weakness, or heat without cold.

Taoism and Wu Wei

A central concept in Taoism is what is called Wu Wei which is also called non-action. This is adhering to what is natural. Examples in the world are abundantly used in the Tao Te Ching. For example a tree metaphor is used where it is said that “that which is firmly established is not easily uprooted”.

But also it prominently states “yield and overcome, bend and be straight, empty and be full,” as pointing to the demise of that which cannot yield to natural forces. But yielding does not mean weakness.

Water is compared to soft or receptive principles, which flows in the path of least resistance, but it’s power is not minimized because for instance in a flood nothing can resist it. Throughout the Tao Te Ching, the natural way works as a metaphor for ethical conduct; where one finds the natural way of non-action or natural action.

Out of this idea of Yin/Yang comes the ancient Chinese classic the I Chingor the Book of Changes, where the symbols of Yin/Yang were used in the Imperial courts for divination.

Understanding the Tao and Pantheism

While Taoism is understood through a conceptual basis; Non-Being, Being, and the 10,000 things; these states exist together and work in harmony. The Tao is not strictly pantheistic (e.g., God is nature) because ultimately the Tao transcends nature in Non-Being which acts as pure potentiality. Out of pure potentiality must come pure actuality (e.g., Being). Therefore, Non-Being cannot be separated from Being (e.g., the cosmos) and the 10,000 things must also be manifested out of Being. All act together and are inseparable. Yet the Tao Te Ching is often referred to correctly as being a work that is “naturalistic”, being that it talks specifically about nature as examples in its system.

It is amazing how such a small poetic book, that can be read in a half an hour, could have so much influence in Chinese culture, but if one looks at this book of teaching one will find great wisdom of the ancients.

Resources:

Smith, Huston., The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. HarperCollins Publishers: New York 1991.

Feng Gia-Fu, English, Jane., Trans. Lao Tsu: The Tao Te Ching., Random House Inc. New York. 1972.

Tai Chi Chuan

What is Tai Chi Chuan and What Are Its Benefits?

Martial Arts, Meditation, and Calisthenics

Tai Chi Chuan is a popular form of exercise. These exercises combines martial arts, meditation and calisthenics. There are many known health benefits.

Tai Chi Chuan is an excellent health exercise which has its origins in China. Tai Chi Chuan is considered the physical manifestation of the Tao or Way (i.e., the way of what is natural). Tai Chi Chuan can be performed by all ages and is not expensive to perform, all one needs is the knowledge of the form and a place to do it. The wealth of health benefits are well documented.

The Origins of Tai Chi Chuan

Tai Chi Chuan is a technique that is practiced in China and has spread throughout the world. Literally it means Grand Ultimate Boxing. This technique is martial arts, meditation, and calisthenics all wrapped into one. This technique was practiced by the Shaolin monks in ancient China. There are many schools of Tai Chi Chuan, which include the Yang Short Form, and Yang Long Form, as well as the Chen forms from which the Yang forms are derived.

Taoism is represented by Philosophical Taoism, Religious Taoism, and finally Taoist Yoga, which is where Tai Chi Chuan fits in. Tai Chi Chuan is considered to be a form of Kung Fu, which means excellence, like the excellence of all of the martial arts.

What is Tai Chi Chuan?

Those who have seen people in the park moving very slowly doing exercise have most likely witnessed the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. Tai Chi Chuan, which originated in China, is practiced commonly in the parks and squares around the world.

Tai Chi Chuan is thought to be the physical manifestation in the human form of the Tao. The use of animal postures fall in line with the idea of Taoism as being naturalistic. One begins with a beginning posture then transitions into the next, completes it and then on to the next.

For instance in the Yang Style Short Form, there are 54 postures. In the Yang Style Short Form there is a lot of animal imagery. The postures include White Crane Spreads Wings, Carry the Tiger, Ride the Tiger, Golden Rooster, as well as Snake Creeps Down. In these postures a movement is initiated in which the animal is somehow represented in a natural manner, which can be useful for martial arts. There are many other non-animal postures as well.

How is Tai Chi Chuan Performed?

All types of Tai Chi Chuan are considered martial arts, as well as being Chi Gung, a form of meditation, and calisthenics all of which improves one’s health, strength and vitality when done correctly. Before doing Tai Chi Chuan, one does warm-up exercises so that one doesn’t injure themselves doing the form. The exercises or postures of the form when done correctly are very anaerobic as well as aerobic. This may not be apparent by looking at Tai Chi Chuan in motion, which is very slow and deliberate.

Central to Tai Chi Chuan is the Chi or breath. This is not specifically respiration, but respiration is a component. Chi refers to the life force. When doing Tai Chi Chuan regularly one increases one’s life force. Some call Chi spirit. When doing the form, which refers to the series of postures one does transitioning from one to another, one controls the breath. Going into and out of a posture into the next one requires breathing in, then breathing out at key points in the postures.

What are the Health Benefits of Tai Chi Chuan?

Tai Chi Chuan has been useful in maintaining health and longevity in China. The health benefits include controlling diabetes, relaxation, deep breathing, strength training, managing arthritis pain, feelings of well-being, lowering blood pressure, helping to battle heroin addiction, increased oxygen in the tissues, increase in blood T-Cell‘s and H-Cells as well as many other benefits.

One of the masters of the Yang form of Tai Chi Chuan, Cheng Man-Ching, claimed to have cured himself of tuberculosis using Tai Chi Chuan. A YouTube video of master Cheng Man-Ching, who originated the Yang Short Form, doing the Yang Short Form can be found here.

Tai Chi Chuan is not expensive. Only a small space is needed to do the form. Once the form is learned it can be practiced in groups or by oneself. Tai Chi Chuan has been shown to be an effective health exercise. It requires no special equipment and can be done by people of all ages. The health benefits are considerable.

Sources:

Helm, Bill. Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Short Form., Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego: San Diego 1996

Klein, Bob. Movements of Magic: The Spirit of Tai Chi Chuan. Newcastle Publishing Company: California 1984

Wile, Douglas Compiled and Translated., Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Advanced Tai-Chi Form Instructions With Selected Writings on Meditation, The I Ching, Medicine and the Arts. Sweet Ch’i Press: New York 1985