An Assemblage of Views Lesson 1: a small course on the powers of philosophy

Seated in silent meditation, the birdsong can either be the hell of distraction or the flow of medicine itself

Cartesian Vision
In considering what we see, we should consider how we see

“Well, that’s just your opinion.”

There was a brief surge of philosophical praxis known as perspectivism, which seems to exist in pieces throughout the Western philosophical tradition, but which found itself crystallized in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Unfortunately, perspectivism has been haunted by the Cartesian divide, such that if one basically holds “everything is just views” as a view, then there is either nihilism or weak relativism, which is held in a reactionary way against the teachings about objective truth or reality.

“Well, that’s just your interpretation.”

By contrast, the word darshan which comes to us from Sanskrit, often translated into European languages as philosophy, literally means view and shares the same root as dristi or gaze. In orthodox Indian philosophy, no less than 6 darhshans or views are held as true simultaneously both in a cultural sense and in the mind of one who knows. The range of views is extended or changed by other lineages and styles of practice.

Before we speak about this and other forms of view-holding in Indo-Tibetan philosophy (forthcoming in part two), let us consider what this view-holding means. What if we transposed this way of seeing into the history of ideas in modern philosophy? We are engaging in this exercise not in order to assess the validity or truth of a view, but instead to see how holding the view acts upon us.

For example, if one were to choose a few key positions in modern philosophy and summarize them in a very rough way. Consider the following four arbitrarily chosen view-summaries:

John Locke and the tabula rasa

“The mind is essentially a blank slate at birth and is conditioned only by sense-experience in the world. [By extension: only that which is known by the senses can be real].”

Immanuel Kant and the a priori structure of consciousness

“Regardless of sense experience there are innate structures to consciousness itself that always-already shape how we perceive the world.”

Kierkegaard’s intense subjectivity

“It is only the inner life which matters: the life of the mind and the soul must be valued above all else, the inner connection to God transcends all other obligations or entanglements”

Hegel’s vast world historical perspective

“Absolute Spirit is manifesting itself in the twists and turns of history. As such, every act is a necessary derivative of a cosmic interplay of forces which is arcing toward a perfectly realized state of consciousness in matter. People and events are small occurrences in this giant world-historical drama which has been playing out from the beginning of time and is moving towards a definite end.”

Practice:

Hold these views, not concurrently in the sense of “knowing what they mean” or indexing them in memory, but hold these views consecutively in orientation to concrete lived experience. For example, if I look at a conflict in my life, work or culture, let me first look at it from the perspective of Tabula Rasa – not in a circumspect of casual way, but to really consider the problem by inhabiting this single VIEW: how then would you act and interact with the problem? Then proceed to the next on the list.

Do not engage this practice as if you are searching for “the truth” or “my truth”, just practice from each view, one at a time.

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