Saturday, 5 May 2012

Materialist Theory and Spiritual Practice

The Cosmic Perspective

Meditation is practice of consciousness. Traditionally, it was believed that consciousness had pre-existed material conditions and processes. It followed that individual subjects of consciousness were souls and that an ultimate subject, if such existed, was God. Philosophers either elaborated or questioned these ideas. Buddhists, believing neither in souls nor in God, nevertheless believed that consciousness was beginningless and that mental processes had been transmitted into current organisms from a beginningless past. Thus: 

for Plato, philosophy or reflective thought liberated souls from matter;
for Jains, meditation transcending thought liberates souls from matter;
for Hindus, meditation unites souls with God;
for Buddhists, meditation liberates present consciousness from perennial mental processes.

I accept scientific evidence that consciousness originated from material conditions and processes. Cosmically, consciousness is novel, not perennial. Its origin was a qualitative revolution. It follows that: 

organisms, not souls or God, are the subjects of consciousness;
mental processes began in a finite past;
meditation is practice of individual consciousness but not also participation in a perennial consciousness. 
Mobile organisms were naturally selected for sensitivity to environmental alterations. The most intense degree of sensitivity is sensation. Therefore, consciousness is a by-product of natural selection. It begins as sensation but becomes reflection: language, thought, self-knowledge, meditation etc. Reflective beings can regard reflective consciousness as an end, not a means. However, only conscious beings can have ends. Therefore, consciousness was not an end of pre-conscious processes. The universe did not intend, although it did tend, to become conscious at least once. We can treat persons as ends in themselves while recognising their accidental origin. The lotus grows from dark places.

Naturally selected reflective consciousness can either continue the struggle for which it was selected or reflect. Reflection can be either a means to survival or an end in itself. Meditation can be a relaxation technique or the supreme enlightenment. Those who engage in conflict not for self- or group-aggrandisement but because disengagement would be a greater evil can synthesise the end of contemplation with the necessity of action. However, political analysis is necessary to determine which conflicts are lesser evils and which merely perpetuate a conflictive status quo. 

The Global Perspective


the American war on terror does not end causes of terrorism but is one;
soldiers merely obeying orders abdicate responsibility;
when a minority resists oppression, a "peace keeping force" merely maintains the status quo, thereby perpetuating oppression;
arming the minority would help to end oppression;
assassinating dictators is less harmful than destroying cities but cannot change society;
mass action can change society, if not derailed by compromising leadership;
markets need states to enforce laws protecting property in work places and resources;
economic competition becomes military;
the global economy needs war - a new century of technology initiated not world peace but two World Wars, then nuclear deterrence therefore Cold War, then a single super-power therefore "war on terror". 

The war on terror can be prolonged indefinitely. When each enemy is defeated, another appears not because the system is good, therefore attacked by everything bad, but because the system must externalise conflict in order to deny that it is inherent. An American clergyman said, "We fought Nazis, then Communists, now terrorists", an uncritical mouthpiece of the status quo.

Many conflicts perpetuate the system but only one can end it. "The last fight let us face..." The whole Earth is now Kurukshetra, the battlefield where Arjuna fought with Krishna as his charioteer.

The National Perspective

Britain, May 2009:
a Labour Government saving global capitalism fails to address global warming;
resurgent fascism is widely opposed even by the anti-immigrant press;
economic pressure on public services causes endless re-organisation in futile attempts to quantify qualitative work.

The Individual Perspective

Obviously, each individual must do what s/he thinks is right. Few accept all the perspectives outlined above but we are obliged at least to question received values before either committing to them or seeking alternatives.

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