Literalism and theological progress

Q. (Aug. 26, 2013) Someone wrote the following: I was reading about the perception of Bhaktivinode Thakur's essay on Bhagavata. Some people view this book as his preliminary view before he became uninitiated and still engaged in a somewhat empirical mode of thought, or at least influenced by such things. However, they say, he subsequently abandoned all these views and believed in the traditional version of shastra and literal interpretations. I just wanted to know your opinion on this issue? Do you think did he abandon his previous views because of peer pressure of identifying with traditionalists? Christianity has always made non-literal interpretations for a long time. However, theistic Indic traditions have difficulty doing that. Right? 

A. Did I mention ruchi and vichara pradhana? Bhakti-sandarbha 202, I think. Sooner or later, you have to get back to ruchi.

At a certain point, one's innocence comes back. One suspends disbelief where disbelief is not necessary. That is the point of vichara-pradhan.

When you go to a movie, you don't ask yourself, "Is it real?" You know it is not. It is bracketed outside the immediate necessity for verification. Its verification is in a different realm of your psyche. Not that it will not affect your perception of "reality", but in that moment, you are there, not here.

Mysticism is a chosen realm of perception, which is inwardly confirmed through spiritual practices and experiences. When you are satisfied with this view through experience, your reasoning becomes focused.

Q. Christianity seemed to be more liberal in using the ideas of myth like you do, but traditionalists don't understand things in the way you are explaining, which is Jungian. Why this fear?

It is a fear mainly of impersonalism. They think that if I don't accept the concrete reality of the myth, then I am denying the reality of God himself.

Christianity is still conflicted, as you have a sizable portion of literalists in the fundamentalist circles, who cause a great deal of trouble. Islam is also very reluctant to go outside of literalism. Pressure from Islam also affected Hinduism to respond tit for tat with a similar literalist approach in the subcontinent. Generally Hinduism is a lot more suspicious of the reality of reality, though there is little doubt that the religious elites felt that literalism is easier for the non-intellectuals.

Many foolish Hindus today think they have to compete on the platform of historicity, rather than simply saying, "Mohammad and Christ are also myths." History is mostly myth, though it has a perceptible kernel of historical fact. See my "History is Bunk" article on the blog.

Earlier Hinduism seems to have been a lot more lighthearted about its myths, explaining the fluidity of mythical themes in India. Haridas Shastri is also openly adopting and preaching this approach.

"Mysticism is a chosen realm of perception, which is inwardly confirmed through spiritual practices and experiences. When you are satisfied with this view through experience, your reasoning becomes focused."

Therefore we can say mysticism is a belief, a film-way looking at things, because through such experience we see things differently than what they appear in the objective world, where we all share common laws of nature. We find proofs for our film-like views in all unexplained spectacles before our eyes, but as long as they remain unexplained.

No wonder seers of old lived in a world of film-like wonders because most things around them remained unexplained for thousands of years. Their basic elements were fire, air, earth, water, but today they are hydrogen, helium, oxygen, etc.

They had no real words for archetypal values, for complex feelings, states of mind, etc. But they had governing deities for each, and deities were personalised as their feelings and natural forces were, and in time became very complex. They had no idea about inner workings either of their bodies, mind, or the nature. It was all vis major, divine spectacle.

Hence their experience is not based on their experience or perception as we understand it today, because we have also learned how to radically challenge certain views (that alone came with a great price to be paid in terms of human lives lost). But in their world, they've based all on their previous knowledge about things and accustomed perceptions (which remained unchanged for quite a while).

Those are two different things, because their perception was heavily filtered through the 'smriti' part of perception: what they knew before their experience. That was important because it provided the fundaments, a vertical stability needed for the cohesion of the small society to grow, in face of the mysterious, big unknown all around it.

And yet, for all our knowledge and wisdom, we still have things we don't know. And we always will.
And we are still in a "film reality" only the content has changed. Bronislaw Malinowski long ago challenged the idea that primitive man had only a magical way of looking at the world. He said that they recognized certain areas were outside of his control. Like, let's say, tornadoes. But when it came to building an outrigger to go fishing, then he applied practical or scientific/technological experience, etc.

Religious thinking may become more sophisticated in the face of the modern reality, indeed it must, but one has to recognize its correct psychic realm.


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