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Creativity Cannnot Be Hurried - Commentary on Karen Armstrong's article

Jagat - Sun, 25 Apr 2004 17:51:47 +0530
Creativity Cannot be Hurried.

Certain things in this article resonated with me. I heard Ms. Armstrong on the radio the other day on her book tour and have read A History of God and something else she did.

I am particularly interested in this aesthetic approach to religion. This is not quite new--indeed I would like to look into it a little more. Like Buddhism, it is a kind of atheist's approach to religion, but it has a deep intuitive connection to rasa theory. With the Dalai Lama being in Canada and all, I have been given to reflection on the commonalities with Buddhism--its essential teachings that Hinduism has imbibed. Atheists do have something to teach devotees, even about God.

Braj quoted Haridas Shastri's very didactic response to a literal-minded westerner who wanted to know about some detailed point of transmigratory lore, showing that even Indian Vaishnavas are not all literalists. It seems to me that literalism is one of those elements that is currently strangling Iskcon, who have been told to accept every jot and tittle of the Bhagavatam as absolute truth.

I personally find the idea of a real, existing, personal God to be persuasive rationally, even while I know the limits of reason. But the aesthetic viewpoint, that "I could only worship a God who knows how to dance", resonates even more for the devotee of Krishna. Our dancing Gods (both Chaitanya and Krishna are Natarajas, what to speak of Shiva) want us to dance.
vamsidas - Sun, 25 Apr 2004 18:29:38 +0530
QUOTE(Jagat @ Apr 25 2004, 08:21 AM)
It seems to me that literalism is one of those elements that is currently strangling Iskcon, who have been told to accept every jot and tittle of the Bhagavatam as absolute truth.


If we do not accept the Bhagavatam as "absolute truth," then aren't we taking the first step down the slippery slope to becoming "cafeteria Caitanyaites"?

Perhaps you are confusing "absolute truth" with "absolute fact."

The Bhagavatam can be "absolute truth" whether or not every jot and tittle within its current recension is "absolute fact." So perhaps it is more fruitful to say something to the effect of:

"The Bhagavatam IS 'absolute truth.' That absolute truth, however, is found in the aesthetic realm."

As we advance in devotion, we don't become more and more expert in archaeology or historiography. We become more expert in tasting rasa.

We already know that in Vraja, the Absolute Beauty takes precedence over the Absolute Fact; Krishna is factually the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but this fact is obscured to the denizens of Vraja.

So why can't we accept that what Mahaprabhu and his associates gave us is the Absolute Truth? What they gave is, at a minimum, "optimal for tasting rasa." That aesthetic truth is far more valuable than any historical facts.

History and archaeology and linguistics, etc., all have their place. But if our main focus is on the Absolute Fact, our honest inquiry in those areas may damage our faith. However, if we have a firm eye on the Absolute Truth -- recognizing that history, archaology, linguistics, etc. all subsist within that Absolute aesthetic Truth -- our rational faculties no longer become a "threat" to our devotional pursuits.

There is certainly a danger of too quickly proclaiming the Bhagavatam "factually wrong" when in fact it may be our own knowledge that is limited. Even so, I think it can be dangerous to deny the evidence of our own senses. The trick is to put our sense-perceptions in their proper place, always keeping our historicist or literalist impulses subordinate to our appreciation of the Absolute Truth, which is found in the aesthetic realm.

Does that make sense to you? I'd be interested in your reaction.
nabadip - Sun, 25 Apr 2004 20:20:01 +0530
Ms. Armstrong begins with quoting Socrates. It is a good beginning for this subject
of Beauty in God, because it was Plato (who made Socrates speak to us) who introduced Beauty as a characteristic of the absolute, even though in his thinking remaining on an impersonal level. What Plato stated, however, has a lot to do with our path. The realm of the absolute according to Plato is the True, the Good, the Beautiful. These three characteristics are inherent in the absolute existence, the real. What we find in this world, has some reflection of these qualities, but to a rather flimsy degree. In Beauty however, that we experience in this world, the absolute is most strongly present and can become a vehicle to pursue a philosophical life through Eros, Love. Beauty causes an inner awakening, Eros arises as the drive toward the absolute, the idea. Beauty can manifest itself for instance in Justice, or in a beautiful woman; Plato does not preclude anything here.

Technically speaking this is not aesthetic dialectic, though, it is an ontological one, which means it speaks about the nature of being and how to get there. But for our purpose we can call it aesthetical, since we tend to subsume the Beautiful under aesthetics. But it is good to know that originally beauty is a metaphysical category in Western philosophy as well.


On another sub-topic what came to my mind while reading this article, was that in Europe (in old Europe, that is) sensitive and sensible people send their children to Montessori schools where children learn in a wholistic way. Previously Waldorf schools were preferred, but they have a sectarian background in the anthroposophical organisation of Rudolf Steiner, a previous member of the Theosophical Society. Waldorf students grow up to perceive reality different from ordinary school graduates. The problem with that is that when they have to compete in this rough, harsh world they lack that drive towards achievement at the cost of everyone else which is normal in this world. They also do not have as much mathematical-scientific skills, because their education is not relying on the development of rational faculties as much.


As to the sub-topic of dance (Jagat):

Our dancing Gods (both Chaitanya and Krishna are Natarajas, what to speak of Shiva) want us to dance.

You mean physically? We are crippled in our movements compared to the way even ordinary people in India move their bodies. I travelled ones with a friend with a degree in Heilpädagogik (study of the micro-movements that an infant learns gradually, and the associated brain-functions that are stimulated by each body function) in India, and it was marvelous to hear his comments on what he saw. The way people on a construction-site handed brick-stones up a line was an aesthetic experience par excellence, when I heard the friend commenting what was ocurring there. Let alone when men and women walk, how they move their bodies; or the way statues are sculpted with every detail in harmony with the whole of the body. So I imagine Sri Sri Nitai-Gaura's dance to be incredibly beautiful...

But I trust you mean it metaphorically, as describing a God who is beauty in person.
Jagat - Mon, 26 Apr 2004 00:04:26 +0530
Certainly I do not accept that the Bhagavatam is "absolute fact," and this is indeed the beginning point of my problem with the literalists, because I think there are too many who do have such an approach.

In terms of Absolute Truth, I am not quite sure where the line is to be drawn between that and "absolute fact."

I suppose that my position, like nearly everyone else on these boards, is somewhat idiosyncratic. For me, the Bhagavata and the Gaudiya sampradaya that pledges allegiance to it are springboards. The various traditions--ritual, theological, experiential, cultural--are the primary sources, or principal ingredients that shape my understanding of God, the universe and my place in it. My use of reason, which is informed by various secondary sources, including substantially those of the West, are tools that are meant to further the insights that have come to me from my primary sources.

I feel that I, and those of us who are similarly engaged, are doing an immeasurable service to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the Six Goswamis. I am completely inadequate to the task, but it is my hope that this belated process will find other, more capable hands, who will increase the dignity of our primary sources by finding ways of making them more meaningful--primarily to those who are already committed to Mahaprabhu. We have to find ways of bracketing the irrelevant portions of Vaishnava dogma, and to track down the essences, both theologically and experientially, and then refine the means of sharing these experiences congregationally. This is the project as I see it.
Jagat - Mon, 26 Apr 2004 00:15:39 +0530
I find the interface between the ontological and the aesthetic an important one. I feel that Rupa Goswami has given the aesthetic a value as a means of measuring ontological truth. This is the whole argument that arises out of rasa as being "brahma-sahodara," or a sister experience of Brahman-realization, i.e., spiritual experience.

When Rupa says something like

siddhAntatas tv abhede'pi
rasenotkRSyate kRSNa-
rUpam eSA rasa-sthitiH
Though from the theological perspective, Krishna and Narayan are both God, Krishna's form is considered superior from the aesthetic point of view, because it is the seat of the highest rasas.
he is suggesting that rasa is a way of establishing an ontological reality. So that is quite in line with Socrates' "satyam shivam sundaram." Of course, I am not really a philosopher, so I don't know how far the two visions are compatible, or even whether there is any philosophical merit in this argument at all.

But I think that the theological merit has shown some degree of proof, at least in the Indian context.
Jagat - Mon, 26 Apr 2004 00:19:41 +0530
God as Dancer is a great metaphor that works on many levels. If we can't dance ourselves, let us at least hold his Rasa Dance in our mind's eye.
Advaitadas - Mon, 26 Apr 2004 00:29:13 +0530
So that is quite in line with Socrates' "satyam shivam sundaram."

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Jagat - Mon, 26 Apr 2004 00:47:49 +0530
QUOTE(Advaitadas @ Apr 25 2004, 02:59 PM)

So that is quite in line with Socrates' "satyam shivam sundaram."

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"The realm of the absolute according to Plato is the True, the Good, the Beautiful."

True = Satyam, Good = Shivam; Beautiful = Sundaram.
nabadip - Mon, 26 Apr 2004 01:03:42 +0530
The beauty present in Krsna- and Gaura-lilas are prominent factors that make this religious experience so attractive. There is an immediate beauty in worship and song, prasad, smells and colorful decorations. The idea that God is a lover of beautiful maidens and is their beloved, and all that in a wonderful scenery with cows and other animals, that alone is the most beautiful conception of God. The heart is filled with wonder.

The sacred texts that describe this and preserve the descriptions for generations to come, to approach and hear them with that same experience of wonder, without the mind taking over at every detail, but seeing the whole of it in its supra-mundane beauty, that's one holistic way of experiencing them.

Rationality has perhaps been over-stressed a bit, since the Goswamis applied so much structuring and systematizing to this holistic experience. Then to apply that same rationality to the contents of the holy texts may be overdoing things. I liked in Armstrong's article that emphasis on the feelings of being in a state of uncertainty, indecisiveness, doubt, because that is part of the experience of wonder (German: Staunen) which by the way is the primordial philosophical experience. Doubt and all that are just the concomitant factors in the mental set up that accompany the experience of wonder.

There are people in this world attracted to Sri Gauranga's tradition, but who are turned off by all this theorizing, systematizing and categorizing. They must have a place, too. The intellectual is only subservient to the beauty in God and the experience thereof. The goal is the experience of rasa. The experience itself most present in beauty.
nabadip - Mon, 26 Apr 2004 01:24:57 +0530
Here is a contrast to the Beauty discussion: "The pursuit of beauty is honorable," Mrs. Lauder used to say. On Estee Lauder's death.