Dharma and Desire

In my last post I talked about the non-duality insisted upon by meta-Reality. At some level, according to Bhaskar, the universe is interconnected. As I try to grasp what he's saying, I can't help but rely upon the words and concepts familiar to me because of my background in Christian theology. In Genesis, it is claimed that mankind was created in God's image (Imago Dei). If that were so, then every human being would have the seed of God in them--they'd be interconnected via God-grist. This God-seed would blossom in unique ways given each person's biological/cultural context. Each human being would become a unique manifestation of God's image. According to Bhaskar, there is a state of being in which all illusions, all bad habits (whether mental, spiritual, physical) are shed such that this God-seed blossoms to its fullest potential. Bhaskar calls this state of being ground-state, and a person's fullest potential dharma.

For instance, if I determined that my life's goal was to become a successful author, in order for this goal to be realized it would have to resonate with my dharma (my fullest potential) and in order to achieve this most efficiently I'd have to remain as much as possible in my ground-state (a state of being clear of splits, illusions, and distractions). In a recent interview, Bhaskar compares this kind of "enlightenment" to Hinduism (or Vedanta):
Vedanta and other traditions have placed great emphasis on practices such as meditation, and even given the impression that the route to enlightenment is to be achieved through meditation, and that everything else you need, all the other virtues, will flow automatically, so to speak, from good meditation. This gives a very misleading picture... As you move into your dharma, everything will become for you more effortless, more spontaneous, you’ll have more energy, tend to get more things right, etc. But you’ll still be living in the world of duality... [We] can achieve transcendental identification with our [ground-state] in meditation, inaction, in removal from active life, but the definition of an enlightened being is someone who is in a non-dual state in the relative phase of existence, that is in ordinary life.
In other words, where in most Eastern religions enlightenment is acheived via withdrawal from society, according to Bhaskar, you approach your dharma when you are in society.

This resonates with the idea of the incarnation in Christian theology--that Christ became God manifested among us. Monasticism, whether Western or Eastern, does not jive well with Bhaskar's conception of transcendence.

One more interesting thing to note about one's dharma is that it is fully realized only when every other human being on the planet is able to attain it as well. This is because we are interconnected (a part of me will always be only as good as the rest of the world). The desire to achieve dharma coupled with the frustration of never being able to fully realize one's potential is perhaps a good explanation for the mechanics behind the philosophical phenomenon of Desire.

You are Your Neighbor

On the first page of meta-Reality: Volume 1 we find a section entitled "Manifesto" containing the following statement:
The world that humankind has made and which we currently inhabit is a world of duality: of unhappiness, oppression and strife--more especially, it is a world in which we are alienated from ourselves, each other, the activities in which we engage and the natural world we inhabit, currently hurtling into crisis and self-destruction.
I think it would be helpful to those of us who haven't been trained in the philosophy of science to look at what Bhaskar means when he uses the word duality. Dualism's entry in Wikipedia offer's a wide range of definitions, but I think the two which are most relevant are:

Within Eastern mysticism:
Dualism can mean the tendency of humans to perceive and understand the world as being divided into two overarching categories... In this sense, it is dualistic when one perceives a tree as a thing separate from everything surrounding it, or when one perceives a "self" that is distinct from the rest of the world.
And within the philosophy of science, which is "the dichotomy between the 'subject' (the observer) and the 'object' (the observed)."

Bhaskar maintains that CR is the best description we have of the dual world. Meta-Reality, however, insists that
most of the categorical errors, those deep fundamental errors constitutive of our misunderstanding of being... turn on misidentifications. This parallels the critiques of the misidentifications [revealed by] the Buddha when he talked about our craving for transitory things as being the root cause of human unhappiness; or when Marx isolated the fundamental categorical errors of capitalism which [are the] extraction of surplus value [and the] exploitation of unpaid labor. (xv-xvi)
In other words, humanity's greatest problem is one of misidentification, and according to Bhaskar, we have misidentified ourselves and our world as separate entities. By re-identifying ourselves as interconnected such that we are a highly differentiated, stratified One, we begin to understand why the Golden Rule is so golden: treat your neighbor as yourself because, at some deep level of being, you are your neighbor.

A Point of Departure

To begin to explore Bhaskar's meta-Reality, it's important to know that this philosophy absorbs/transcends the philosophy Critical Realism (CR). It makes since, then, to start by glossing over some of the main tenets of CR. To help with this, I'm invoking the words of Margaret Archer, Andrew Collier, and Douglas Porpora from their book Transcendence: Critical Realism and God. I've made several words in these quotes bold because they are critical realism watchwords.

CR is characterized by ontological realism:
Ontological realism asserts the ontologically objective existence of reality, independent of our beliefs about it... Since the downfall of positivism, it has become almost universally acknowledged that there is no such thing as objective knowledge, knowledge that is in any sense value-free or theory-neutral. Along with almost everyone else today, we agree that all knowledge is value-laden and theory-laden... It may be that, epistemically, we can only know the world through concepts of our own making, but within our own concepts, we must always make an ontological distinction between what we believe exists independently of us, and what does not. Otherwise, we simply conclude that the universe is coterminous with our knowledge of it. To avoid this conflation, critical realism insists on an epistemological distinction between what it calls the transitive dimension (our beliefs or knowledge claims about the world), and the intransitive dimension (what the world is actually like apart from us). 2

CR is characterized by judgmental rationality:
[A] second premise of critical realism is the ever present possibility for 'judgmental rationality' about the world. Judgmental rationality means that we can publicly discuss our claims about reality, as we think it is, and marshal better or worse arguments on behalf of those claims. By comparatively evaluating the existing arguments, we can arrived at reasoned, though provisional, judgments about what reality is objectively like: about what belongs to that reality and what does not... We often reach a point where the arguments for certain claims are so strong that we are ready to consider the case as being virtually settled. In such cases, we consider ourselves to have arrived at what critical realists call alethia or alethic truth, the truth of reality as such. 2

It is important also to note that critical realism has always been end-oriented. And while other proponents have been less specific, Bhaskar frequently uses the term "eudaimonistic society" which can be defined as "universal human flourishing" where "the free flourishing of each is the condition for the free flourishing of all." The idea is that human beings flourish when they are emancipated from false beliefs promulgated within the transitive dimension of reality. To put this in layman's terms, there are bad things within culture. When we admit that we aren't fully constrained by our culture, that we can see past the "reality" that has been spoonfed to us by mother culture and become aware of the prejudices and irrationalities inherent within our culture, we have the power to not only liberate ourselves from these prejudices, but to bring these insights back into our culture and liberate humanity as a whole.

This has been an inordinately long post, and if you've made it this far, you have my gratitude. But I hope you can see why CR is appealing to me. My next post will be about how specifically meta-Reality departs from CR.

Roy Bhaskar's meta-Reality

Dear 4 Readers,

Forgive me for failing at NaPoWriMo. I'm going to write a long list of things I enthusiastically claimed I would do but failed to accomplish:


Instead I will suck you into the joy that I am currently experiencing in reading Roy Bhaskar's meta-Reality: Volume 1: Creativity, Love and Freedom. My buddy Roy's biggest claim to fame is the fact that he founded Critical Realism in the seventies. Since then, the Critical Realist movement has taken a controversial "spiritual turn," and Bhaskar has started writing about a new philosophy which encompasses but transcends Critical Realism. He calls this philosophy meta-Reality.

Critical Realism has potential for becoming the middle ground between the desire for truth and origin and the more existential tendency of freeplay. Coming right after postmodernism, it couldn't have better timing. In some circles, for awhile at least, it was even taken seriously. Unfortunately the proponents of Critical Realism have jumped the gun. While I consider Andrew Collier, Douglas Porpora, and Margaret Archer to be excellent scholars who maintain their academic integrity; I worry that they may have promoted Critical Realism too zealously, associated with Bhaskar too closely, promoted each other too frequently, and prematurely broached subjects that are too generalizing to be taken seriously (yet). Gee. Sounds a lot like ME. In fact, for these reasons, I find myself associating with the movement on an emotional level. I find myself being loyal to these scholars I've never met. I find myself wanting to sit at their feet, write about Critical Realism, and *maybe* (whisper this part) explore Bhaskar's meta-Reality with secret anticipation.

In fact, I'm coming out of the closet: I'm probably devoting my entire academic career to the Critical Realist movement. That doesn't mean that I'm unaware of the stigma I'm bringing upon myself for doing so.

I'll be blogging about Bhaskar's meta-Reality here for awhile. Forgive me if this is a boring subject. I think, however, once you discover that dragons are enfolded within you, you'll come to love it as much as I do:
And the claim of the philosophy of meta-Reality is that all other beings are enfolded within myself, or at least the alethic truth of all other beings, and I accordingly am enfolded within all other beings too. So the distinctiveness of beings remains, you are different from me, you are spatio-temporally, karmically and constitutively different from me, but you are nevertheless enfolded within me. The fact that all beings are enfolded within me enables me in principle to discover the alethic truth of those beings, such as the molecular structure of a crystal or the nature of gravity or what it is like to be a dragon... (xviii)
YES! The nature of the universe empowers me to experience dragonhood, and THAT is worth ANY stigma!

Northernness, pt 2

In my last post, I don't think I did justice to the concept of Northernness. I wanted to clarify that Northernness has a trigger (like the YouTube video in my previous post), but that the feeling of intense joy is not a direct response to the trigger. It acts in the same way as the sublime (and the concepts may indeed be interchangeable), in that the viewer experiences nostalgia, hope, and awe for something they can't quite pin down. Lewis says it eloquently:
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
As I noted in my Hopeful Midwife, pt 4 post, the sublime works as a kind of ping on the ontological radar: it alerts us to the fact that the Real is at large. For those with theological commitments, it is a ping on the God radar (or godar for shiggles). Consider this joy evoking diagram I masterfully crafted:

In this diagram, the Man with the Green Hat (or Magat for short) sees something that resonates with that which lies beyond the curtain of subjectivity. Magat has just experienced transcendence, he has for a moment set aside the world of duality and caught a glimpse of what might be. He is given license to do this because he (and I would argue the entire cosmos) is created in the image of God (imago Dei).

For those of us without theological commitments, transcendence can be explained via the possibility that we are all part of an ecosystem; a Whole; a mass consciousness that we tap into for a fleeting moment.



A friend of mine posted a link to this YouTube video, and upon watching it I had a very strong emotional response. Watch the video, and then read on...

By the end of this clip, tears were running down both of my cheeks. I felt tricked somehow; a mixture of confusion (why was I crying?), sheer joy, and anger (the world isn't really like this). Somewhat ashamed of my unmanly display (fortunately no one in the house noticed my brief meltdown), I scrolled down to view the comments people had made on YouTube, and was relieved to find other men claiming to have cried at seeing this. But why? I certainly didn't have this reaction when I saw The Sound of Music. The best summation of what I felt, I think, is C.S. Lewis' concept of Northernness. Lewis attempts to describe this feeling in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy:

I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky. I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale and remote) and then... found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.
It is a Desire rooted in both nostalgia (the innocent sound of Julie Andrews' voice) and hope (complete strangers who might not even understand the lyrics to the song or speak each other's language falling into step with each other). It's the emotive equivalent to catching a maddeningly familiar strain of music being played by far off trumpets, of lying in a hospital bed and swearing that you can smell the ocean, or feel the spray from a cresting wave.

Have you ever experienced Northernness? Did this video evoke a similar emotion? If so, what would you call it?

April Poem 5

Yeah, I know. I'm behind a day. I'll make up for it though.


i stand and rub my eyes
it's late, all lights but mine are off
it sheds a sleepy sphere of orange
before fading into murky blue

somewhere in that silent ether
are two bodies
one in my bedroom
leg twitching
chest rising
she must be dancing
in a red dress that sweeps the ground
in a field of fig trees
her body spinning
her hands trailing in a spiral
fingers drifting
in and out of shafts of light

the other one sleeps in a tiny bed
his hand in a fist
as he swings a blazing sword
and hears the snicker-snack!
as it slices spindly spider legs
to save his missing mommy

why should i crawl into bed?
what dreams that flash within my head,
could trump this quiet joy?

April Poem 4

you found me once
at a toilet bowl
having fought
and lost again.

how can you blame
me for my anger?
wondering why
you hide so well?

it's not my fault,
i couldn't see
my life was hard
where had you been?

and i was told
at an early age
you're like saint nick:
too good for truth.

and i suspect
at times you were
a projection of
my desperate mind.

and sometimes doubt
gnaws at my throat
so i can't breathe
and i'm afraid

but don't you fret!
you aren't without
the sunsets on
an open sea

the book of john
a crown of thorns
and consciousness
and life itself

and to be honest
if science solves
the mysteries of
all time and space

if every christian
sleeps in on sunday
puts up your book
on a dusty shelf

or even worse,
if they become
mean with money
and self-righteousness,

if all else fails,
then don't you fret
you'll still have me,
you'll still have me.

April Poem 3

my best guess
is that the look on your face
when i grumbled about the coffee
was disappointment.
did you think you'd married
a man with gentle graces?
turns out you got
just a man
with a stubbly face
a protruding nose
and a propensity for being selfish.
but did you know
that even as i'm growling
i look at you in your pajamas and wonder:
what computer malfunction,
what missing receipt,
what transposed number on the cosmic ledger book of the divine economy
afforded me
my eastern princess?

April Poem 2

what if tomorrow
is like today
with its lukewarm shower
its bad coffee
its uncomfortable office chair
the way the computer screen burns
into my bloodshot eyes?

what if tomorrows are stuck
like a scratched cd
repeating only enough
to catch the same dull notes
but never a melody?

sometimes i want to drive
somewhere off the map
where there's no signal
and there's no one who knows
i spent 8 out of 12-hour days
doing things i'd never have done
if it weren't for what they paid.

Conceiving of the Middle Ground


As I wrote about in my Hopeful Midwife posts, there has existed two fundamental views about our ability to interpret the universe. Either the universe has properties independent of our perception, or the only way in which we can extract meaning from the universe is via an artificially constructed context. Either there's transcendent meaning or its all freeplay. This debate occurs even in the sciences, perhaps especially in quantum physics. On the one hand you have folks like Einstein, who even in the face of the indeterminacy of quantum physics insisted that we simply don't know enough; that "God doesn't play dice." On the other hand physicists like Bohr insist that "quantum systems have meaning only in the context of the particular experiments performed on them." A recent article in the New Scientist talks about Tim Palmer's work with fractals, and how his work might unify these two sides of the aisle by presenting a kind of middle-ground which satisfies both parties.

I find it interesting that you could read this article with "finding meaning in literature" in mind, perhaps replacing Einstein's camp with those that seek better readings in texts, and Bohr's camp with postmodernists who revel in freeplay. Does Critical Realism offer the middle ground to meaning in literature that fractals offer to quantum physics???

April Poem 1

My friend Chrissy has made me aware of something called NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month. NaPoWriMo is a challenge to write a poem every day of the month of April. I'm usually not into these kinds of things, but I've come to realize the importance of just getting your fingers on a keyboard when it comes to writing. I'm declaring here, publicly, that I will do this. In fact, I'll post them here as a way to stay accountable.

the world slow-burns like a lighting punk
and you and I dance on the ember
drawing firefly trails with our glowing feet.
who watches our descent?
whose fingers will smart as they clamp to extinguish us?
or maybe we'll just burn
setting ash we shed like snakeskin
to be conveyed on rivers of curling smoke
which pool in the air, congeal as words
and spell out the secrets of the universe.
maybe before we burn to the bottom
we'll touch the threads of a waiting fuse
we'll dash headlong down its silvery length
sending sparks like rain into the thirsty dark.
at last we will explode!
a symphony of ascending fire
a color for every one of us
as we split and sputter and flash.
will we fade at last?
or will we continue to detonate
until the universe is filled with light?