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Logic, Morals and Meditation: tarka, dharma, yoga

Logic, Morals and Meditation: tarka, dharma, yoga
by Arindam Chakrabarti

posted June 3, 2003

This paper was written as part of an Infinity Foundation sponsored project.

“I will now close my eyes, plug my ears, and withdraw all my senses. I will rid my thoughts of physical objects — or, since that is beyond me, I shall write those images off as empty illusions. Talking with myself and looking more deeply into myself, I’ll try gradually to know myself better.”

Don’t these lines sound as if they are from some sort of an autobiography of a Yogi? Actually, as many of us recognize, they are the opening lines of Descartes’ Third Meditation (on First Philosophy). The coincidence becomes even more intriguing when one reads on the rest of Descartes’ chapter. One of the alternative objects of meditation recommended by Patañjali in his Yoga-Sutra-s is the idea of God – not quite a Christian creator God but a unique center of consciousness, free from the bondage of karma and desires and afflictions, where the seed of omniscience reaches its highest conceivable perfection. This third Meditation of Descartes also happens to focus on the concept of God, though a radically different concept than the one recommended by Patañjali. Yet, it would be shocking to both Western rationalist-modernists as well as to Eastern lovers of mystical wisdom to call Descartes an unwitting practitioner of Yoga! Descartes was a mathematician posing as a sceptic in his search for perfect certainty through purely logical reasoning and thereby laying the foundations of European Scientific Epistemology. What does that have to do with Eastern spirituality which is supposed to help us transcend all logical thinking and plunge us in an oceanic intuitive experience of God, self or nothingness?

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About the Author

Arindam Chakrabarti, Professor, Department of Philosophy in University of Hawaii at Manoa, Associate Editor: Philsophy East and West, teaches Philosophy of Language, Metaphysics, Indian Philosophy and Philosophy of Mind. He has published Denying Existence (Synthese Library, Kluwer 1997) and co-edited Knowing from Words (with B.K Matilal) (Kluwer 1993) and more than 50 articles in journals. He has taught at Delhi University, Univerisity of Calcutta, University College London and University of Washington, Seattle. He has been leading The Infinity Foundation Non-Duality Project of Distinguished Vedanta Lecture Series at the University of Hawaii since 1997.