Primal Divergence : A Contrast of Cultures (Part-1)

A very common and recurrent theme in blockbuster Hollywood movies today is the lead character’s fear of the unknown and his or her outright pessimistic view of life resulting from it. The protagonist, usually a presumptuous know-it-all, seems to always fear new or radical forms of knowledge and tends to ‘shy away’ (putting it mildly) from pursuing the truth about the ultimate reality or nature of the world. He usually has his own simplistic, dumbed-down theory of the meaning of life, what God is and what we are here to do. This scene from the movie Angels and Demons comes to mind:

Camerlengo Patrick McKenna: I did not ask if you believe what man says about God. I asked if you believe in God.
Robert Langdon: I’m an academic. My mind tells me I will never understand God.
Camerlengo Patrick McKenna: And your heart?
Robert Langdon: Tells me I’m not meant to. Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.

This exemplifies a typical conversation between a ‘man of faith’ and a stubborn atheist. The best part is that both these characters are not different from each other. They both fear the unknown, the beyond. When they are faced with some revelation of a higher reality, they react with disbelief and a stubborn and steadfast clinging to their own preconceived notions.

It seems they are content with limiting their reach and progress to a simple, obedient and unquestioning faith in an extra-cosmic ‘man in the sky’ to solve their petty and mundane troubles (blaming him if he doesn’t solve it) and not aspire for a ‘becoming’ into something more than man, something superhuman or Divine.

Men and gods

The conception of the Divine as an external, omnipotent Power is an Abrahamic concept; that Power has ‘created’ the world and governs it like a tyrant monarch. Even atheism is rather shallow and aimed at opposing only these childish exoteric religious beliefs and crude dogmas. 1

One comes to the realisation of how much Greek thought has influenced and is still influencing Western mentality. In the above context which is but one example, one can notice the subtle survival of the Greek limitation. The fear, the gloom and aversion with which the terrestrial Hellenic mind views any idea of the limitless or infinite and expresses strong dislike for anything lifted beyond a ‘human’ measure. In contrast, this was never the case in India, where the infinite was embraced in all its facets, from the most beautiful to the most terrible. 2

Heaven’s trust to it are the established ancient ways,
Immutable laws man has no right to change,
A sacred legacy from the great dead past
Or the one road that God has made for life,
A firm shape of Nature never to be changed,
Part of the huge routine of the universe.3

(From Savitri by Sri Aurobindo)

The Vedanta boldly declares, on the basis of its vast Yogic knowledge, deep direct experience and concrete realisations, an identity with God, the Parapurusha, Parabrahma.

Based on these four grand truths, Nityo Nityanam (One Eternal in many transient), Chetanas Chetananam (One Consciousness in many Consciousnesses), So Aham (He am I), Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman the Eternal) as upon four mighty pillars the lofty philosophy of the Upanishads raises its front among the distant stars.4

But the Greek gods were jealous gods. Hence the Greeks believed in a law which made itself felt violently against man’s egoistic will and arrogance. Greek literature is littered with examples of what happens to men who prosper and display haughty insolence and pride.5

The Greek gods mentioned have all the qualities of the ‘middle heavens’ which could either mean Bhuvar Loka (vital world) or the Manasic planes (lower mind planes). They are not the high gods but rather half-mental, vital gods. They help man as long as he worships them in a manner prescribed.

In the Vedantic view, man can make use of them in his spiritual pursuit but he must be able to go beyond them. However, if man tries to overpass these tyrant gods of the middle heavens and tries to rise above them to the truer gods or to the one Supreme, they violently oppose him with hurdles that can only be surpassed through sincere aspiration, unwavering faith, steadfastness and surrender to the Supreme. It is a test and if you pass, the gods approve of you going beyond them.11,12,13

The ‘Alien’ theories

Being unable to come to terms with a conception as vast, deep and subtle as the Vedantic, modern Western thought has found a different means to explain away unknown forces: Aliens. It has become a fetish among most movie makers today, to explain away great achievements by ancient humanity, or oriental cultures with Alien theories. The West is generally either unable to or unwilling to conceive or admit that there may have been extremely advanced races that existed aeons ago; but advanced on a different basis than what is understood by the word ‘advanced’ in today’s parlance.

Being arrogantly convinced that science-based ‘civilisation’ is the height of progress and advancement they come up with phantasmagoric theories such as aliens building the pyramids and mentions about gods in cave drawings, wall paintings and literature being references to ancient spacemen that had visited earth for reasons unknown. Perhaps they were tourists to our solar system and had stopped off and interacted with primitive savages who were bamboozled by their advanced ‘technology’ and revered them as gods who taught them really advanced alien skills like farming!

It is usually some advanced ‘alien race’ that accidentally spawns humanity, using Earth as some sort of galactic laboratory and humans as lab rats out of boredom or worse, mere jest. This consistently terrifying portrayal of the relationship between gods and humans or aliens and humans (which is just modern-day science fiction) perhaps arises from their view of man and humanity as something petty or insignificant.

All this seems to be a result of a horrendous misreading of the original legend of Prometheus. The fire that was stolen and given to man was not the physical fire, it was the knowledge of the Divine fire within man which will allow him one day to supersede even the gods. Therefore Prometheus kneaded man from clay and wanted to endow him with the soul-spark. He was the ‘generator’ of humanity (not as the movie Prometheus wants to us to believe, Aliens!) and not a mere enabler of the discovery of terrestrial fire by friction.10

This is what Zeus fears and envies, a gift given only to man. I doubt he would tremble at the thought of man wielding physical fire or becoming technologically advanced. For he knows, that if man fails to discover his soul, for all his ‘advancement’, he would eventually self-destruct. This is evidenced in the cataclysmic tales told in the Puranas and other myths around the world about ancient civilisations that existed, were highly advanced, but on a different basis to our advancement. They eventually perished due to aggrandisement of ego, of mind and vitality but were soulless. Without being in touch with divinity, true advancement and immortality is impossible on both individual and collective levels. Those were the tales of the Asuras and the Titans. Man has become a modern asura, albeit an inferior one. He lacks that elemental force.9

It is interesting how several modern attitudes of the West today have been shaped by ancient Greek ideas. In the transition between mythology and science fiction, there was the Cthulu mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft whose ‘great old ones’ embodied or reflected several Greek conceptions such as Fate, Chance, Death and amplified them to even more monstrous proportions. His writings echoed the theme of the Greeks in a more sinister way, highlighting the utter insignificance of man in this massive, unthinking and cold universe and his inability to do anything but fear the unknown.

Even the Christians who destroyed much of the old Greek forms of worship, philosophy and mysticism, borrowed much from the Greeks without realising it. This includes the blood-rite which serves as the psychological idea of sacrifice that was subtly incorporated into the eucharist. Greek religions did not survive the Christian purge mainly because they were of a rational bent and made a sharp division between philosophy, science and religion which is still a very peculiar characteristic of the Occident.5

The dogma of materialist science

Although Christian theology in its hay-day similarly reduced man’s status (even though he could somehow still achieve divinity just by believing in Christ) the dogma of materialistic science is even more frightening as it reduces man fundamentally to a composition of chemicals, gases and sub-atomic particles that derives its mind and morality from a biological composition of cells and neurons.6

This explaining of all supra-physical things using a physical formula and attributing everything in the world, even the origin of consciousness, to mere Chance have been two capital errors committed by physical science. This is very similar to the Cthulu Mythos which believes the universe to be a work of an unintelligent force that works things out via an unintelligent caprice. It’s funny how science excludes chance from the actual process of physical law where everything is determined by cause and effect. But when it comes to explaining the ‘why’ of things, it takes the easy way out and attributes it to chance, probability and so on. This is just a scientific man’s way of explaining the irrational caprice of the gods to which the primitive man attributed thunderstorms and eclipses.5

Even recent theories about biocentrism and panpsychism which allow for a consciousness in matter and the universe still believe that consciousness originates from a physical field in the physical universe or a particular location where a heavenly body radiates consciousness. Neuroscientists argue that consciousness is generated from the neurons in the brain.7,8

Fritjoff Capra in his Tao of Physics tried to equate Nirvana, Brahman and the Field Theory to try and explain the great unknown. Of course his equation was not accurate. There is a subtle yet massive difference between the Buddhist and scientific conceptions of the Nihil, the Zero or the Void. They are both agnostic but they differ fundamentally; one is material and the other spiritual.

As Science fills our mind with the idea of a universal government of Law in the physical and outward world and in our relations with Nature, though she leaves behind it all a great unanswered query, an agnosticism, a blank of some other ungrasped Infinite,—here covered by the concept of Chance,—the Buddhist conception too fills the spaces of our mental and moral being with the same sense of a government of mental and moral Law: but this too erects behind that Law a great unanswered query, an agnosticism, the blank of an ungrasped Infinite. But here the covering word is more grandly intangible; it is the mystery of Nirvana. This Infinite is figured in both cases by the more insistent and positive type of mind as an Inconscience,—but material in the one, in the other a spiritual infinite zero,—but by the more prudent or flexible thinkers simply as an unknowable. The difference is that the unknown of Science is something mechanical to which mechanically we return by physical dissolution or laya, but the unknown of Buddhism is a Permanent beyond the Law to which we return spiritually by an effort of self-suppression, of self-renunciation and, at the latest end, of self-extinction, by a mental dissolution of the Idea which maintains the law of relations and a moral dissolution of the world-desire which keeps up the stream of successions of the universal action.5

Read Part 2 in the series

References:
[1] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Volume I, Vol 28, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
[2] Sri Aurobindo, Renaissance in India, Vol. 20, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
[3] Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, Vol. 33 and 34, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
[4] Sri Aurobindo, Kena and other Upanishads, Vol. 18, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
[5] Sri Aurobindo, Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, Vol. 13, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
[6] Sri Aurobindo, Isha Upanishad, Vol. 17, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
[7]Philip Terry, The Universe May Be Conscious, Say Prominent Scientists, June 25, 2017
[8] Sean Martin, Is death just an ILLUSION? Consciousness CONTINUES in alternate universe, scientist claims, November 29, 2016.
[9] Sri Aurobindo, Early Cultural Writings, Vol. I, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
[10] Helena Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine.
[11] Sri Aurobindo, The Record of Yoga, Vol. 10 and 11, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
[12] Evening talks with A.B. Purani
[13] Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, Vol. 6 and 7, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.

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Ganesh Varadharajan

Ganesh works in the financial services industry. Writing is his passion and he hopes to one day publish books in areas from epic fantasy, to poetry and philosophical and spiritual writings. He maintains blogs related to the writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother whom he considers his role models.


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