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The Compatibility of Three Differing Ontological Views of the Ultimate Feature of Reality

08 Sep 2017Other Essays

The three texts, The Way to Rainy Mountain, The Bhagavad-Gita, and Confessions, represent three ontologies into the nature of reality, or into the nature of human consciousness. In this sense, one can derive and “ultimate feature of reality” from each of the three texts. After such a conclusion is reached, we can then begin to look at those features as being philosophically or spiritually compatible with one another or incompatible. After a careful survey of each of the three pieces, I will argue that the texts are actually compatible with one another, given the right open-minded and socio-anthropological understanding. This argument is based on not only the studies of these texts, but my understanding that each human is searching for a relief of suffering, and are each working within not only their geographical and cultural backgrounds, but also within the historical paradigm to which they are limited to.

The first text, On Confessions, by Saint Augustine, is classic piece of early Christian theological expression, steeped in one human individual’s absolute desire to eradicate suffering and anxiety, through a deep communion, or surrender to God. The story is one of surrendering and conversion, an evolution from one state to another through the presence of a divine source. The evolution involving the transcendence of Augustine from stages of this ascent (from ignorance to illumination) are precisely identified: the two 'tentatives d'extases plotiniennes' (Bk. 7) and the vision of Ostia (Bk. 9). Augustine goes on to imply that all human suffering (failure to ascend) is a result of ignorance as to the nature of God and ignorance as well towards the nature of created things.

This viewpoint is based on an evolution of spirit, beginning with the early “sinful” youth of Augustine, and ending in a final analysis of time and God in the last books. Having demonstrated that he was a tempted youth, and what he has become as a transformed man, he shows the benefit of confession or surrender to God.

This is the heart of the argument on the ultimate feature of reality: the need for absolute surrender to the Divine. Then, he examines his own actions and mind as being tempted. This temptation can only be remedied by a relationship with God, and self-knowledge. Similarly, the pinnacle of the human experience can only be had through knowing God. This is an arduous journey, as demonstrated by the trials and tribulations of Augustine. He searches and searches for God and ultimately finds his own mind. And so here we see a man, plagued by suffering, who bases reality on the ephemeral momentary awareness of God, ultimately overshadowed by the pull of his own mind.

Truly the greatest mystery of the thesis and of the ontology, is the realization that God is above and beyond the constraints of time and space, a God that is perfect in spirit and without limitations, and in every inhuman. And yet, at the same time, Augustine realizes that humans have been created in the likeness of this God, and have inside them a deepness that is God’s likeness, stating “Don't you believe that there is in man a deep so profound as to be hidden even to him in whom it is?”

The second work, The Bhagavad-Gita, is a differing ontological stance if one is to consider the external manifestations of the philosophy. In this depiction of man’s ascent from ignorance to bliss (the Godhead), Lord Krishna is the name of the Supreme Lord offering spiritual guidance to Arjuna (a representation of the universal every-man). And yet, if we are to deconstruct the deeper meanings, we see a similar paradigm of man’s struggle with his own nature, or mind.

"I was born in the darkest ignorance, and my spiritual master opened my eyes with the torch of knowledge. I offer my respectful obeisance’s unto him."

And so, the essential message, or worldview of the The Gita is surprisingly compatible to that of the early Christian Saint Augustine. The purpose of the message of the The Gita is to deliver humans from the suffering of this material existence, just as Lord Krishna delivers Arjuna from suffering on the battlefield of Kurushetra. It is in the surrender or Arjuna to the Lord, not in battle, that he was delivered from the anxiety that we all feel. This anxiety is essentially a fear of non-existence, and through total surrender to the Lord, we realize that we are eternal. This is similar to Augustine’s “made in the likeness of God.”

This first step towards removal of suffering, and the essential message of human existence begins, in both the The Gita in the Brahma-sutra and in Confessions, with an ardent inquiry. The Gita calls this inquiry, brahma jijnasa, or “Athato brahma jijnasa.” Based on this intense inquiry, the jiva then learns the message of surrender, that man and nature are not independent, but are acting within the sphere of the Lord. Krishna says, mayadhyaksena prakritih suyate sa-caracaram, or “This material nature is working under My direction.”

The mind can be considered to be a product of past karmic residue, which we must work at purifying. We are either suffering or enjoying as a result of our past behaviors. This can include actions or thoughts. The purification of thought and action leads to a state where a deeper connection to that which is unchanging, or eternal, can be perceived.

The story of The Way to Rainy Mountain is a symbologic expression of the Kiowa oral tradition, based on the voices of N. Scott Momaday, his father and the ancestors, the historical commentary and the personal experiences of the author. More than a religious experience, the Kiowa worldview is based on inherent interconnection of all things, both material and psycho-social. In this sense, there is no separation between the material world, the animal world, the natural world and the psychological –cultural world of men.

So linked is man to his natural environment, that the Kiowa creation myth begins by stating, “You know, everything had to begin, and this is how it was: the Kiowas came one by one into the world through a hollow log.” (Introduction) An important aspect off this creation myth is that some of the tribe actually remains stuck in the log. Here we can see a direct connection of the tangible material existence to the “other side” or ephemeral world, through the connection to ancestry.

Understanding the world-view of the Kiowa tradition is more complex, as it is not explicitly stated as in the other works. The author gives an introduction to the reality of the Kiowa experience by explaining the desolation of the landscape. He paints a picture of Rainy Mountain in the introduction, stating that:

The hardest weather in the world is there. Winter brings blizzards, hot tornado winds arise in the spring, and in summer the prairie is an anvil's edge. The grass turns brittle and brown, and it cracks beneath your feet. There are green belts along the rivers and creeks, linear groves of hickory and pecan, willow and witch hazel. At a distance in July or August the steaming foliage seems almost to writhe in fire. Great green and yellow grasshoppers are everywhere in the tall grass, popping up like corn to sting the flesh, and tortoises crawl about on the red earth, going nowhere in the plenty of time. Loneliness is an aspect of the land.”

The Kiowa people deal with this isolation in similar fashion, by searching for God through a manifestation of the sacred Sun Dance doll, the symbol of their worship.

We are presented with a similar paradigm of the difficulty of the human interpretation of experience as so eloquently expressed through the landscape of Rainy Mountain. And within this landscape, we find Creation. Similarly as to the Gita and Confessions, from within suffering, of isolation, of even a battlefield, the greatness of the Creator is at work.

Each of the three works are from such differing geographic locations, as well as historical time periods, that it is easy to see how the nature of the human experience, the nature of God, and the expression of the remedy for human suffering and the ultimate feature of reality are expressed in highly differing manners. Each human individual will deconstruct reality in accordance to his or her personal collage of experience, culture and genetic makeup, not to mention spiritual tendencies. Despite these superficial differences, ultimately each paradigm attempts to align itself with the Divine, whether through an identification with an external judgmental God, an internal and external, ever-changing Lord, or a simple identification with all that exists within the visual horizon of nature and one’s own mental relationship with ancestry. Within these differences, each human can go beyond the isolation, the suffering, and the anxiety of non-existence through an alignment with something beyond one’s self: an alignment with the Divine. It is essentially up to each one of us to give shape, definition or expression to that divinity.

Sources

  • Miller, Barbara Stoler. Translation of The Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War. Bantam Books, 1986.
  • N. Scott Momaday. The Way to Rainy Mountain. University of New Mexico Press, 1969. 16.
  • Warner, Rex (1963). The Confessions of St. Augustine. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-451-62474-2.

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