Thursday, August 29, 2013

understanding Brahman through Spinoza's lenses (post for comment)


humata, hukhta, huvarshta. a few thoughts regarding our first week.

1- i suggested seeing Brahman as Spinoza's God, i.e., God-as-the-universe, a Godverse.

Spinoza is referred to as a pantheist, but let's be clear. what's important here is the idea of an immanent (and some say transcendent)*  God, which elicits a couple of questions:

(a) does the whole universe = God? (b) or is the universe in God? 

(a) and (b) are different. (b) means panentheism. (a) means "all is God." (i refer you to my simile of the cell in my liver saying "i'm Triff" (ok, but it stretches it a bit). 

it's difficult to be a pantheist and not a monist (the idea being that all can be explained in or reduced to one substance the ONE). is hinduism a monism? well, it definitely has a monistic gene.

Brahman is presented as a trimurti: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. this is not like the christian trinity. this is more a S-B-V a balance of forces: B (creator), S (destroyer), V (worker, vish means "to work" ). Vishnu is a sort of guardian, gatekeeper, a sustainer.

now given this structure let's speculate: does hinduism suggest there is more order than chaos in the universe?

2- is Spinoza's Godverse self-conscious? The answer is not that simple. I side for "no". But that is not a demotion at all. Take into account that  (a) Spinoza doesn't share Descartes' mind/body dualism.
(b) Consciousness for Spinoza is not generic. Not because one thinks one has consciousness.
(c) self-consciousness implies self-positing. If Godverse is infinite, that self-positing presents an obvious tension, i.e., it constrains Godverse's infiniteness.

3- Is Spinoza's Godverse FREE? methinks not. this conclusion demands a clarification.

Spinoza's Godverse is the cause of all things because all things follow causally and necessarily from ITS divine nature.
all things have necessarily flowed, or always followed, by the same necessity and in the same way as from the nature of a triangle it follows, from eternity and to eternity, that its three angles are equal to two right angles (Ip17s1).
the universe's existence is absolutely necessary. that is to say, it's impossible that God should exist & not the universe (thus, the Godverse). This does not mean that God does not cause ("cause" is better than "create" here) the universe to come into being freely, since nothing outside of God constrains him to bring it into existence.

at the same time, God could not have done otherwise. there are no possible alternatives to the actual universe, and absolutely no contingency or spontaneity within that universe.

everything is absolutely and necessarily determined:
(Ip29): In nature there is nothing contingent, but all things have been determined from the necessity of the divine nature to exist and produce an effect in a certain way. 
and this one:
(Ip33): Things could have been produced by God in no other way, and in no other order than they have been produced.
Here is another determinist Spinozist morsel:
(...) the infant believes that it is by free will that it seeks the breast; the angry boy believes that by free will he wishes vengeance; the timid man thinks it is with free will he seeks flight; the drunkard believes that by a free command of his mind he speaks the things which when sober he wishes he had left unsaid. ... All believe that they speak by a free command of the mind, whilst, in truth, they have no power to restrain the impulse which they have to speak (...)
 4- we got a discussion going on the subject of Hinduism on the subject of moksha or liberation. the word "confusion" mistakenly standing for the moksha link (i suggested for a reason) i was put on the spot. then, i explained the mistake in terms of a problematics of the idea of salvation through the interpretation of the patanjali sutras. i hinted that salvation can be a double edge sword. the topic elicited a spirited discussion (by the way, in theology, the field dealing with salvation is known as soteriology. we'll be talking about it in more detail).   

what are your thoughts? (i prefer if you have your comments posted by tuesday next week. remember:150 words minimum)

NOTA BENE: veronica approached me at the end of the class and asked me to structure more our discussions so that your observations take place after we've had time to present the lecture, sources, etc. i agree. so, next class, the order is: 1- lecture first, then 2- we read and then 3- we get the discussion going. now, that doesn't mean you have to be enforceably silent. if you have a question (not a point) let's address it, f it is a longer point let's wait a bit. in general that has always been the model, only that this is a more precocious class :)
*transcendent & immanent come together in the scholastic definition of God. transcendent means above and beyond, for example, if God exists above and beyond the universe, God is transcendent. immanent means "remaining within", "inherent". judeo-christian theology has God as "present" throughout the universe. so God is both transcendent and, thisview is not without metaphysical problems. this is not the place to explore that.   


Anonymous said...

I am not used to talking about the existence of God in philosophical contexts but here is my best attempt at it:

Spinoza's view that God is everywhere, I found to be very interesting. This because of the fact that despite God's plurality, a term I might be misusing here, he or she is still ONE because all of the Universe is one thing despite the fact that there are many things within that universe (they too are God).

As for the Godverse's self-consciousness I am dumbfounded by a logical problem that perhaps additional comments might clarify. If God is indeed infinite he cannot constrain himself by thinking of himself as a unit. This, as has been pointed out, would go contrary to the spirit of infinity. However, the inability of God to self-posit is also a constriction of his ability. Thus, by the spirit of infinity, I have arrived at the conclusion hat God must be Self-Conscious AND not at every moment in time. I cannot help but think that this is an absurd notion.

If we tie this back to Hinduism, however, I feel that because there is a trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva) god must be transcendent and thus conscious of his efforts. One could argue that by virtue of his immanence he is also transcendent. That is, the Hindu trinity although transcendent is only so because of the immanence of Brahman.

I'm very confused now. Eastern Philosophy, so far, is doing its job, I suppose. See you guys tomorrow. I hope you enjoyed your Labour day weekend.

Anonymous said...

Oh I forgot to name myself in my own comment. My name is Jose Giron (I submitted the comment on September 2 at 7:40 PM)

Jose Giron

Anonymous said...

Firstly, I wanted to pointed out something I found kinda odd; that just because you think, doesn't mean you are conscious. This puts Rene Descartes' notion of "I think therefore I am" on its head, and leads me to wonder; that is personal thought in itself does not lead to one being conscious, than what does? What does one have know or do to be conscious? Does it mean that one has to have a sort of "out of the one's self" perspective; "I'm just an ant in an infinite Universe"? Another thing mentioned in this article that somewhat stood out to me was Spinoza's take on free will. That one does not necessarily have free will, but merely act out of one's emotions, needs, desires and instincts. Can man (including women) actually be conscious? Is it possible? Are we no different than other animals, in that in reality (in a more indirect and distorted way) only act instincts? And also, if one cannot be conscious, and the Universe as the collective that it acts as for Spinoza cannot, than is there really consciousness?

-Manuel Alonso

Vini Giannattasio said...

Both and neither are the truth. Spinoza commits the fallacy of interpreting the void at face value. Voids are not the lack of existence. They do exist as a concept if they can be referred to. By a highly unorthodox interpretation of phenomenology, one may infer that perception forges reality, and validates the existence of the Void as an entity. The discrepancy between Panentheism and Pantheism is the reflection of a great mystery within Kabbalah. Da`at, the 11th Sephira, is disagreed upon between Luria and the Baal Shem Tov in the same nature of the problem above is perplexing. The usual way to solve paradoxical dichotomies is the tempered course. Both Pantheism and Panentheism are correct. It is simply an issue of progressive manifestation within the void within the godhead.

“Berishit Elohim,” “In the beginning God.” That is a complete sentence. It is implied that before the creation act, there was only God. That is the infinite God that Spinoza erroneously refers as the God now. The concept of “Ein” may not be defined in any way, for it has no restriction. That is the infinite boundless God of Orthodox Judaism and Christianity; the premise of pantheism. As the Rambam argues for the infinite God, it is believed that he refers to the God prior to the creation act.
A god that can not be defined as god, because it is infinite and has no restriction, is not God. So God wanted to be God, and he restrained himself. He created the void, the initial disparity between light and dark. By restriction, there is intelligible definition. This is the concept of “Sof.” From the Godhead, he again expands into the void, and the Creation account of Genesis 1:2 follows. The light he emanates is “Ohr,” the fabric of creation (maybe a trinity here?? lol)
If monism is preserved, the statement that all is contained in God because, all is God, (pantheism) is fulfilled. But because the void is a creation of God, even what is beyond the universe is still god, allowing for Panentheism to exist in harmony with Pantheism.
The Void is part of the manifestation of God because it is the crucible of Creation. It is indeed absent from the Tree of Life, reason why it is referred as a void, only because it is a portal into the Godhead; through the Void, comes the precursory life.

On a somber note, God must be aware. It must not be self-conscious because he is incapable to have a Self, he may only have an Ego. Self is the product of the evaluation between quintessential truth against the nature of the being. Further contemplation entails into the being`s position within the system of the universe, its part into corporate existence. That is the true definition of Self. Ego is the definition of being given by isolated introspection: it does not take in consideration purpose and poised evaluation of definition. God can not forge a Self because he lacks the standard of perfection from which to contrast himself because he is the standard of perfection. His only option is the Ego. Such concept does not imply that he is not aware of himself and is not an intelligent being. So much for avoiding a confrontation... It takes courage to contemplate.
Both problems are easy to solve if one only reads words for their meaning, not assumed interpretation. Maybe Spinoza should have consulted with better rabbis.

Vinicius Eliyahu Giannattasio

Fabio. V said...

Here, I want to tackle the notion of god's infinitism. Assuming that the universe is infinite, according to Spinoza's perception of god; in which the universe is indistinguishable from such supremeness, it is still uncertain what the essence of this construct (the universe) is meant for. If indeed the universe is god's expression of such infinite endeavor, then what prevents this grandiose and audacious power to undermine the value and meaning of creation? Aren't values and worth accentuated by the idea of the non-infinite? I believe so. The idea of delimitation is perhaps much more rhetorical and appealing to some. I believe philosophers like Spinoza are inclined to reckon such phenomenon as supreme simply instinctively.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

I am not very well read on Spinoza but what I understand from this post is that Spinoza was pantheist and sees all as god, therefore we are god which is in all so we are the atoms that create all within everything. The Hindu viewpoint on god in my understanding is not pantheist because brahma is a Trimuti breaking down one god into 3 gods which is what you mentioned polytheists when there’s a different god for different areas. (Exp: god of the kitchen.) So if Spinoza believes all is god and everything flows naturally then he has a nature over nurture viewpoint but then if we are the way we are it might be a paradox of nurture of the world by the universe. I’m not sure if I am explaining my point well enough here; the universe nurtures us to be the way we are and things are the way they are because of nature therefore the universe nurtures us to be like this by nature…it’s a cycle.
I don’t think Spinoza’s godverse is self-conscious because god is seen as a force an essence as opposed to having a thinking brain; more of an enlightened force.
Also my understanding of transcendent & immanent: so if a god exists above & beyond the universe, god is transcendent. And immanent a remaining god soi f a god remained above and beyond then he is present throughout the universe which is what Jeudo Christian Theology saw god as.
So far I am confusing myself in this classroom but I am enjoying it.
-Jasmin Gonzalez

Martin Gross said...

Conceiving God as the Universe

a) Does the whole universe = God?
I personally hold to this concept, but going a little further than Spinoza Mohandas Gandhi stated: “Everyone has faith in God though everyone does not know it. For everyone has faith in himself and that multiplied to the nth degree is God. The sum total of all that lives is God. We may not be God, but we are of God, even as a little drop of water is of the ocean”. My personal belief as to why humanity exists in this world is to seek an understanding of the act of creation. This is to say that we view the elements of God inside the poetic beauty of the universe. For without collective human consciousness, in my opinion, God cannot exist.
b) Is the universe in God?
This is a fallacious assertion, as this presupposes a finite God that has a body that contains the universe within it. And the universe as we know it, is infinite, therefore the creator is infinite, unbound by limits or boundaries. Personally Gandhi’s thought on faith expresses much better the separation of being part of, and being a product of God.

Anonymous said...

I, as a few of my other classmates, am equally confused in the class but enjoying it.

From what I understand, divine nature (not sure if that's the term) is, very simply put, the essence of what makes something. A snake cannot help to bite and is not conscious of this. Does the trimurti also have divine nature? That is to say, Brahma creates, Vishnu sustains and Shiva destroys without question or self-consciousness? Also, is this divine nature what binds from not being able to act freely?

Seeing that "all is god", is that the reason why humans are not self-conscious? Is it because Spinoza's Godverse is not self-conscious as well?

Something I'm also having a hard time understanding is what and who defines consciousness in this Godverse when neither god nor human are conscious. Does obtaining liberation include this or is it just being one with god? Is liberation true consciousness or still the lack thereof?

I know I'm probably rambling nonsense. Hopefully I can make sense of it all soon.

~Katherine Davila

Anonymous said...

Does the whole universe equal God, or is the universe inside of God? I personally have a hard time answering these questions and defending these views because in my head the possibilities are endless. I do not define myself by one belief; however, I do believe in possibility. Maybe the whole universe does equal god and maybe it doesn’t. While I do believe in God, I’m not quite ready to say that I am sure that what I believe is fact because in the end it would only be true in my personal reality, (since I cannot assume that others think as I do.) I know I’m not really answering the question philosophically, but, I’m not entirely sure about this and I don’t want my head to explode so I will leave this part of my writing at that.

On another note, when posed with the question of whether or not Hinduism suggests that there is more order than chaos in the universe, some thoughts do come to mind. Hinduism consists of a trimurti of gods-Brahma the creator, Shiva the destroyer, and Vishnu, the guardian and sustainer. The Christian Holy Trinity says that three entities are all one God, however, Hinduism calls for the specialization of each God to their appointed task with the goal of finding balance in the universe. These gods are not represented as one being-and this shows that they need each other in order to protect the universe from succumbing to chaos. This may be Hinduism’s way of hinting that there is more order in the universe than there is chaos, but what’s to say that chaos isn’t a part of that order? Brahma creates and Shiva destroys…does one not cause a form of chaos for the other? Vishnu is just hanging out in the middle making sure that one does not cause more “chaos” than the other so that the universe continues to be balanced. In the end, I still feel that these ideas, regardless of their original intentions, will be interpreted by the individual as they will. Interested to see what my classmates think!

-Veronica Gomez Musa

Anonymous said...

Hello class,

At first this read was a tough for me since it asks for my point of view and within the article there are questions asked and answers given so I had to go back to the beginning and see the point of the article which is A) Does the whole Universe = God? And B) Is the universe in God?
So from my point of view, since we are analyzing Spinoza’s concept of Brahman I would say this article is most likely focused on point “B” specially when Spinoza’s is consider a pantheist. Where God is everywhere and the universe is in God.
The point that caught my eyes the most was when Brahman is mentioned as a Trimurti as: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva but goes on right away and clears out and says, “that is not like the Christian trinity” and explains how Brahman is the creator, Vishnu is the worker and Shiva is the destroyer.
To close this interesting article I would like to leave it on a question. How come is presented that “not because one thinks one has consciousness”. To me that cant be possible if you act by thought versus instinct you must have conscious . I will like to discuss this in class.. This was a great article

Francisco Baumgarten.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what the human mind can conceive, the limit of what we can conceive will always be GOD, plus, what we cannot conceive is GOD too. Humans by virtue of our consciousness have a separation from the initial source. However, you! Reading these words are GOD, by GOD, of GOD, with GOD, in GOD, and every thing else you can think of. Still, when we scale it to plain human terms what we know as GOD will only exist as long as we manifest it. The day we stop, GOD will cease to exist and become something else. And that will be GOD too.


Anonymous said...

Hindiusm suggests that there is a perfect balance present throughout the universe. It differs from the christian trinity, however, through its monistic promotion of reality and divinity as identical.
This does not imply the relative preference of order to chaos within physical reality. Spinoza’s argument that everything is absolutely and necessarily determined conflicts with the assumption that the universe is self-conscious. The nature of reality, within very precise mathematical models, derives from necessity, not from abstract spontaneity or contingency. Additionally, to assume a free universe is to assume that reality and divinity are not identical in the monistic sense, therefore it is also not appropriate to relate Spinoza’s god verse to the Brahman of the ancient Hindu texts. Another point of interest is the connection between monism and pantheism, simply because monism interferes with the concept of infinity, suggesting the existence of discreet units of information within our reality. This results in a paradox of argumentation.

- Ethan Epshteyn

Anonymous said...

To be quite honest, I’m confused. Is the universe in God or does the universe equal God? Is it possible to say neither, but also both at the same time? How about is God in the universe, I mean, is it possible to look at it this way?
And is it wrong to think that one can be God- or rather their own God? Like thinking “I am the universe and everything that is in it.” But maybe that’s just a different point completely; seemingly having absolutely nothing to do with pantheism.
I feel like my thoughts are mixed.
I can’t say I completely agree with Spinoza’s views, but I can say that I don’t think the body and the spirit are separate. You ask if Spinoza’s Godverse is self-conscious and you sided for no, meaning that if something is, then it will be without one knowing it is, but then how will one know when and if it is? And how will one know?
You also mention “Consciousness for Spinoza is not generic. Not because one thinks one has consciousness.” I get that, and somewhat agree, but what exactly sets the bar for this “consciousness” we’re speaking of?
I'm just pretty mind-boggled right now.

Carolina Vera

Anonymous said...

Its difficult for me to provide a conclusive answer which is why I've held out on commenting for so long.
I found myself confused on the subject matter and wasn't (still am not) really sure how to attack this.
I was able to go off the concept of a godverse for the simple fact that I was able to make some sort of scientific association.
God is everything. The universe is everything. So lets say we refer to god as subatomic particles.
Energy is not created or destroyed and is infinite. So god/the universe is infinite and transcendent according to thermodynamics.
Through this looking glass, I was able to comprehend the subject matter a little better but I'm still a little wide eyed.
Touching base upon consciousness, I'm at a crossroads.
"I think therefore I am." has always been my general understanding.
This being a godverse and God being all knowing, he/she/it would be the conscious one, correct? Humanity would lack self-consciousness and ultimately lack free will.
Free will is generally destroyed by this concept of a godverse is it not?
I'm confused. I'm gonna stop here before I just entangle myself in a contradictory situation.

~Manuel Valdes