Foundational Dissent and British Nihilism – Addendum 2008

Addendum 2008:  But what about Humanities at Cambridge?

Those at Cambridge who are familiar with my dissent disagree with me.  As if in response, in April of 2008, Cambridge in America produced a complementary event in San Francisco, which focused on the humanities.  (The budget is now two billion dollars.) As opposed to the glittering all day event devoted to science, it was just a morning and luncheon.  One felt it was something of an afterthought for the benefit of those of us who are not dedicated to the scientific view.  The real Cambridge was acknowledged to be the personal domain of ones life and experience there, something most of us hold very dear to our hearts. In the course of this charming and excellent event, what was demonstrated is that human nature and values can also be treated as an object (the proper study of man) and that no one does it better than Cambridge. 

But the humanities do not reach to the level indicated by the foundational dissent I have expressed. Cambridge is one of the capitols of the faith in an objective world that can be mastered by human knowledge and exploited through technology. Philosophers like Plato, novelists like Hesse; psychologists like Jung, and the entire hermetic and occult tradition of the West have been saying the exact opposite. In a very real sense, we are microcosms, containing an entire world within our psyches, a world in many ways much richer than the “real world” by which we are taught to measure ourselves. For the scientific view of the mind, dreams, visions, hypnagogic experiences, and the like are so much mental rubbish, relegated to the psychic dustbin, though I am sure there are psychologists at Cambridge who now study these phenomena so long as they do so objectively.

The truly foundational dissent is not addressed by the humanities or by psychology, but by the existence of a real recognition of and appropriate approach to the transcendental and experiencable as the basis of any enquiry.  The six great ancient Buddhist universities of India, such as Nalanda, with their manifold disciplines, were as much established on a transcendental ground as Cambridge is established on an empirical base.

One source of transcendental studies is the Sufi tradition.  Peter Avery, fellow of Kings, is much celebrated for his elegant translations of Sufi texts, but this is regarded as beautiful literature having historical significance and valued sentimentally as exquisitely exotic.  There is no one at Cambridge mining this literature for a genuine methodology for empirically discovering the nature of the universe and refining a practice for realizing this nature.  But this is what the great Sufis were doing.  The sublime and sometimes giddy bliss of the poetry is a celebration of the results of this methodology.

But make no mistake. In other quarters of the world frontiers are opening up on the strength of the ancient understanding that final and effective truth can only be achieved once consciousness, our true home, is comprehended.  In his book The Universe is in an Atom, the Dalai Lama, a passionate devotee of Western science, is generously critical of sacred Buddhist texts which that science has contradicted.  However he has made a very astute and foundational critique of the Western scientific perspective.  Basically Western science is fixated on the it, the object, believing the object to be the only legitimate subject of study, and by implication the only legitimate existent. This he claims is the great weakness in the scientific project.  In contrast, the Buddhist tradition, starting with its founder, has excelled in the rigorous and disciplined study of the I, the subject, and more basically, the transcendental presence which holds subject and object in unity and which has throughout the contemplative tradition been subjected to detached observation of a very disciplined and rigorous kind.  It is in fact a radical form of empiricism.  The fruit of this discipline is nirvana, the cessation of subjective suffering.  This is a contentment, peace and existential rectitude that empirical science will never achieve.  That dream of scientism is over.