Sunday, 31 March 2013

Comparative religion: The role of religious scholars

With the advent of Internet, Information technology and the way of sharing of information it has become possible to accurately compare and contrast different doctrinal interpretations of different world religions hailing from different cultures across different timelines and places in the world. A huge amount of research has been done on comparative religion by religious scholars worldwide.

Let's just see how religious scholars are changing and have changed the way we think about the major religions of the world.

We begin first with Dr. B. Alan Wallace, a Buddhist scholar and he arrives at this conclusion after his life time research on religious studies.




"While Buddhism is deemed non-theistic, the Vedas are regarded as polytheistic, and the Bible is monotheistic, we have seen that the cosmogonies of Vajrayana Buddhism, Vedanta, and Neoplatonic Christianity have so much in common that they could almost be regarded as varying interpretations of a single theory. Moreover, the commonality does not end there, for in the Near East, the writings of Plotinus (205-270) also influenced Islamic and Jewish theories of creation. This apparent unity could be attributed to mere coincidence, or to the historical propagation of a single, speculative, metaphysical theory throughout south Asia and the Near East.  For  example, the Upanishads may well have influenced the writings of early Mahayana thinkers in India, and they could also have made their way to the Near East, where they might have inspired the writings of Plotinus. On the other hand, Plotinus declared that his theories were based on his own experiential insights, and similar claims have been made by many Buddhist and Vedantin contemplatives. If these cosmogonies are indeed based upon valid introspective knowledge, then there may some plausibility to the claims of many contemplatives throughout the world that introspective inquiry can lead to knowledge, not only of the ultimate ground of being, but of the fundamental laws of nature as well."


How does one decide which doctrinal interpretations are correct and which aren't? Aren't we just cherry picking?

No, no certainly no. This is a common criticism made against comparative religious studies, however we don't just cherry pick interpretations to suit data with the theory that we have under consideration instead we use negative theology and intuitive reasoning.

In negative theology we figure out what God cannot be if he exists based on the recent available empirical evidence. For example, as the leading quantum physicist, Bernard D'Espagnat says,

 “any tentative philosophical approach to a world-view should take information coming from contemporary physics into account quite seriously."

- Bernard D'Espagnat.

Now what does facts established from experiments and recent empirical evidence says. All empirical evidence is in support of a philosophical approach called 'open realism'. A view that something real exists outside of space-time confirming that Platonic realism is scientific. 

“Plato’s ideas do not belong to space-time but they exist independently of the human mind and are the cause of phenomena. This is why, when we talk of Plato, we sometimes talk of the realism of essences. In this sense (a distant independent reality, probably not situated in time and space-time), it is difficult for the philosophical realism of a physicist to avoid being a little bit Platonist. Bohm himself, previously a standard bearer of the “materialist” physicists, even says now that perceived objects are only projections of what exists.”

- Bernard D'Espagnat 

Therefore based on this premise we choose those interpretations of religions which have withstood the test of times and which are more likely to be the correct interpretation of a religion based on the recent empirical evidence.

Next we choose which traditions of religions had figured out this years back before the advent of modern science about the nature of reality as confirmed by facts established from recent experiments. Which are mainly the Smartha tradition of the Vedic Aryans, the Vajrayana tradition of the Tibetan Buddhists, the Valentinian tradition of the pneumatic Christians and the tradition of Neo-Platonism and they all have so much in common between them that they can all be put forward as one single theory. Of course all these traditions are based on the philosophy of Platonic realism.

Next we take care that each one of these traditions is critically examined and analysed so that we don't misrepresent and twist the doctrines of these traditions without understanding them in their own milieu and try to forcefully find similarities between them in order to prove the very hypothesis which we are testing. If we find some major contradictions among the doctrinal interpretations of these traditions then the theory or the hypothesis that these traditions have a identical core set of beliefs is wrong or falsified and not that the interpretation is changed to meet our theory.

In this way we arrive at consistent conclusions based on negative theology and recent empirical evidence and hence successfully refuting the criticism that the conclusions made from comparative religious studies are all cherry picking and non-empirical.

We move on to our next religious scholar Richard H Jones.


Sometimes I feel that religious scholars need some encouragement and external support since they alone fight in academic circles in order to overthrow misunderstood preconceived notions with in the academic circles and also foolish dogmatic positions held by fundamentalists and other various thinkers. Therefore I contacted and congratulated him for recognizing that Advaita Vedanta and Quantum mechanics have nothing in common with each other and that they are based on a different epistemology which most people don't realize and foolishly defend their dogma.

This is how I congratulated him for his works on Science and Mysticism.


Comment
Respected Richard. H Jones,

     This is Harshit from Bangalore, India. I have been interested in the dialogue between Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics for quite some time and I just wanted to congratulate you for correctly differentiating the epistemology of Advaita and Quantum Physics.


As you say many eastern and western thinkers do not understand that it is incorrect to equate the concept of field in Quantum Physics with Brahman of Advaita.


Brahman is a platonic concept and it exists outside of space-time itself and to be honest I have been extremely disappointed with people who misinterpret these traditions without giving any justice to their philosophical differences.


"[When making parallels] it could be that Western thought is unconsciously or consciously being taken as the supreme standard, with a corresponding lack of sensitivity to other interests: Asian thought must be shown to be positivistic in a time when positivism was in vogue, or existential for those who value existentialism. . .Or it must share our moral values, if not our beliefs. The various traditions cannot stand on their own terms but must be related to a Western standard. The danger here is in distorting the fundamental nature of these traditions in order to fulfill this demand rather than in understanding them in their own milieu."


- Richard H Jones.


I surely have to give a thumbs up for that statement and I appreciate for the honesty and the intellectual rigour you have shown in your works.


Indian or the eastern thought is not positivistic in fact its the opposite. According to Indian psychology the Mind and Brain are two different things.


Please kindly keep up your good works.


Thanking you!!


Best Regards,

Harshit.S, B.E in Information Science Engg.



Richard H Jones replied:

Hi Harshit, 

Thank you for your kind remarks. You will be glad to know that I have an article coming out sometime next year in a book on mysticism that once again argues that Advaita Vedanta (and Buddhism) is very different from quantum physics.

Richard


The next scholar which we are discussing requires no introduction as she is quite famous for her works on Gnostic Christianity and the way she changed our picture of early Christianity, she is none other than Dr. Elaine Pagels.



Her works are highly authoritative on the Valentinian tradition which is one of the neo-platonic Christian traditions which has a lot of similarities with the other two traditions of Vedic Aryans and the Tibetan Buddhists and hence her works on early Christianity are very much important for the theory of B. Alan Wallace to be successful.

Next we move on to the Sanskrit scholar and ritualist, Devudu Narasimha Shastry. He isn't much popular to the outside world and he needs a little introduction.


Devudu Narasimha Shastry, Sanskrit scholar.


"Devudu Narasimha Shastry (1896-1962) was a colourful personality and a polymath. He was a thinker and writer of unusual and extraordinary merit. A forceful speaker, he was equally a persuasive writer, and an indefatigable enthusiast for reformation and revolution within the ambit of tradition. He was chosen for the honour of being ‘worshipped’ in the ceremonial way, as one among the hundred traditional scholars, by the first president of India, Babu Rajendra Prasad, in the sacred Varanasi. He hailed from a family of royal priests in Mysore, but the stature that he had as a traditional scholar was acquired by him as a result of his systematic study of the shastras for 20 years.
Popularly known by his pen name ‘Devudu’, was not merely a great writer but like the seers who had the Vedas in vision, he gave visual shape to the Upanishadic verses in his transcendental work."

- Devudu Prathistana.

His works on the Vedic Aryan religion are highly authoritative and gives immense support to the theory of B. Alan Wallace.


The Vedic Aryan religion.


Savitr - Sol Invictus - The Invincible Sun - King Helios


Christianity

In Christ dwells all the Pleroma of deity in bodily form. - Col 2:9



Buddhism

Adi-Buddha, Samanthabhadra.


These three traditions have so much in common between them that they can be put forward as a single theory and such a theory should be taken seriously and they might give insights into the nature of reality which science cannot give.


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