Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Mr Palomar" Italo Calvino



The first two paragraphs. The context is contemplation or meditation. Mr P is attempting not to contemplate ‘the waves’ but to look at a wave. This is a crucial difference.

Contemplating ‘the waves’ implies a Platonic world view, in which a wave becomes ‘the waves’ or ‘the sea’ through a process of metonomy; and then in which ‘the waves’ become ‘the world’ or ‘time’ through a process of metaphor. Contemplation implies a searching for something eternal, symbolic, meaningful within the ephemera of the world.

Looking at a wave, on the other hand, implies a Buddhist world view, in which the properties of a specific wave are objectively observed by the senses.

Consider this sentence: In his desire to avoid vague sensations, (the higher truths arrived at through contemplation) he established for his every action (that is, every act of observation of the wave) a limited and precise object (that is, a conscious awareness of the separateness and completeness of each wave and a conscious awareness of one’s self looking at it).

Buddha says: Those religious authorities (philosophers, priests, literally Brahmin, the highest caste) versed in tradition (teaching, learning) say: that path which we neither know nor have seen (the ineffable truths arrived at through contemplation of ‘the waves’) we declare to be the path to union: this is the direct, this is the straight path that leads to salvation, and leads one who follows it to communion with God. And then he declares this approach to be ‘ridiculous’ (sic). (Dighanikaya 13). Instead of following a religious path, Buddha teaches a focus on the moment: live observing the body in and as the body, live observing feelings in and as feelings, live observing mind in and as mind, and live observing mental qualities and phenomena in and as mental qualities and phenomena. (Samyuttanikaya 5.47.6)

Buddhist thought rejects contemplation of the eternal and instead aims to arrive at an unbinding of the self through a disciplined awareness of the present moment contained in the realm of the senses ('looking at a wave'). It is vitally important to remember at all times that in Buddhism, thought is a physical sense, the organ of thinking being the mind: there is no mind/body dichotomy.

The problem and difficulty in arriving at a precise observation of the present moment, is how to separate the present moment from the one which preceded it, and the one which follows it, a problem which Buddha warns us about, and of which Mr P becomes aware through his and the text’s submission to the temptation of metaphor: But it is very difficult to isolate one wave…

4 comments:

James said...

What would imply an Aristotelian world-view? Perhaps observing a wave, in the scientific sense?

Eric said...

No, I think not. That would be looking at a set of waves to determine the characteristics of waves in general, the laws under which they operate: Platonism by the back door?

Surely looking at the wave is, if anything, an aesthetic stance focussing on particularity rather than generality. Like good painting or writing, or, dare I say, living.

But why are the Buddhists I know so abstract?

Murr said...

I think an Aristotelian world view would be looking at the wave to see how it works; a Platonist world view would be looking at the wave to see what it stands for; the Buddhist, would just try to look at it in all its particularity, but not bring anything to it.

Anna in PDX said...

This is wonderful. Real food for thought. The experientially oriented meditation is very hard for someone steeped in Western philosophy.