Inter-Religious Dialogue - A Heathen Perspective from India
Draft version of a talk given at the Katholieke Universiteit van Leuven,
March 27, 2007
S. N. Balagangadhara
Research Centre Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap
One of the ideas in this talk is that (as per the Indian traditions) an impediment to happiness is a lack of self-knowledge. So what is self-knowledge?
Balu tells us below what self-knowledge is not. (emphasis added by me).
"I live in a culture (the western culture) whose members not only pride themselves in their self-knowledge but also believe such knowledge is an index of the maturity, independence and stability of a person. What they mean by self-knowledge is actually self representation, which is more often than not at odds with the kind of creatures they are.
"It is a mixture of odds and ends: ideas, pictures, values, fantasies, ideals, etc which they slug all through their lives. The less this picture is subjected to shocks by the events that occur in their lives, the more comfortable they feel. Looked at it this way, a person is said to have a stable and mature identity (this is another word they use in psychology for this assortment) if this representation is not shaken by what happens in that individual's existence. Creation of an identity or the emergence of an identity refers to that process or event where the person in question begins to relate to this picture consciously and explicitly.
"Is this also self-knowledge? This amalgam does contain elements of insights by the person about him/herself. But these are not thought-through; they are not the deliberate results of exploration and reflection into oneself. Mostly, they are the insights the organism has acquired about itself during the course of its journey through life.
"Grafted onto this are other odds and ends: the strategies one used as a child, the remembered feelings one has had at different phases in life, a way of holding oneself while alone, different ways (both successful and failed) of going about with people, the vague images of heroes one admired but has since forgotten. In the full sense of the word, it is an assortment of junk that one is somehow held together. This junk is accumulated in the course of one's life.
"What holds this junk together even as an amalgam? Emotions. They cement these odds and ends together and ignorance does the rest: one presupposes that this junk is a coherent picture of some sort or another. One does not know whether this amalgamated junk that we call self-knowledge or self-representation is a coherent picture; most of us might even suspect that it is not, which is perhaps why we are so afraid of attacks against it. That is also why we get so attached to it. However, the emotions invested in this amalgamated junk and ignorance makes us think that this is what we are.
"This is one of the reasons why we are so sensitive to remarks by others about us. They nastily remind us that the emperor is naked. The others exhibit this truth, albeit in perverse ways (by insulting us, by poking fun at our self-image, etc), about this junk: namely, that it is junk. The fact that we get emotional (whether positively or negatively) about this amalgamated junk is the surest indication that emotions hold this junk together.
"If the emotions did not hold these odds and ends together, two things would have happened: there would be no picture to talk about or hang on to, and the remarks of the others would induce no emotions in us. But the emotions that hold this junk together also blunt the remarks that others make about it. They redirect such remarks (as weapons) against the amalgamated junk that the others hang on to: the other is prejudiced, ignorant, jealous, stupid.
"Thus, the ideal and mature person that the western psychology talks about has two properties: such a person must know which remarks from others should be recognized as true (even though painful) and which to redirect.
"You do not learn these two abilities in order to become a mature person; these abilities are the consequences of your maturity.
"If the above is true, what stands in the way of achieving self-knowledge or knowledge about the kind of organisms we are? The amalgamated junk that we call psychological identity. Having such an identity is not indispensable to being a person; instead, it stands in the way of becoming one. What prevents self-knowledge is the picture we have of ourselves as individuals. Or, better put, the emotions we invest in holding our self-representation together prevents us from understanding ourselves for the kind of creatures we really are.
To not be hindered by this "amalgamated junk" leads to freedom.