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Book Reviews

EASTERN WISDOM AND WESTERN THOUGHT. by P. J. Saher.

(Allen and Unwin. 65s.)

Review by J. C. Cooper.

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Winter, 1970) © World Wisdom, Inc.
www.studiesincomparativereligion.com


On the cover, the book is sub-titled "The Psycho-Cybernetics of Comparative Ideas in Religion and Philosophy", and inside as "A Comparative Study in the Modern Philosophy of Religion", the latter being the more Accurate description of the purpose of the book. "Wisdom" is defined by the author as the "hard core of fundamental ideas" underlying the teachings of the ancient West, "in spite of all their manifold varieties". While there is a world of difference between appearances of these varieties in religions, this wisdom is a common substratum. Eastern and Western philosophy have much to learn from each other, for, although Western philosophy is often concerned with trivia, at its highest level its sole pursuit is illumination. This enlightenment is the only attainment which can bring permanent satisfaction in a world of otherwise shifting values, and without it the individual remains incomplete. In fact, "the only reason why man is born on earth is to find his spiritual self... his innermost being".

Part II of the book is devoted to a study of Radhakrishnan's 'Religionsphilosophie' which "provides us with one of the most enduring foundations for inter-religious friendship". "All religion is for Radhakrishnan vibbhajjavada, that is to say reason plus meditation. Logic can help us to know something additional, something new, only when its premises are rooted in intuition". Intuition being not a logical, but supra logical; it is integral knowledge, an "intimate, complete knowing".

While Part II is entitled "The East Explores the West", Part III is headed "The West Explores the West" and deals with the philosophy of Aldous Huxley who is, the author maintains, "a much deeper thinker than he is credited to be. He distorted his own image in the public eye by occasional bouts of levity"; but the crux of his philosophy is the exorcism of the ghost of Locke; the meaning of time, and an antidote to the ills of Logical Positivism and Materialism. However, Dr. Saher warns that Vedanta should not be referred to as ‘Western’ or ‘Western’, nor can it be treated as a separate religion since "it deals with the inner core of mystery to be found in every religion worth the name".

A telling point is made in commenting on ‘progress’. One is provoked into asking "What kind of progress? For it may well be that one kind is in inverse ratio to another. Technological progress, for instance, involves a movement away from natura naturans to natura naturata. Whereas spiritual progress is usually accompanied by a renunciation of the natura naturata in favor of the natura naturans".

The chapter on mescalin and LSD and "the Problem of Synthetic Sainthood" is particularly apposite. "A heaven that can be attained without works is a dangerous temptation to hold out to the masses, for man by nature inclines to sloth... The will, under mescalin, suffers a profound change for the worse... this alone should be reason enough to condemn the drug". Huxley and Zaehner are criticized for their apologia for mescalin. What is overlooked is that "psychedelic drugs depend for their effects on the psyche of the person taking them". While they may have some use in psycho-therapy, the curing of insanity "is not the same as attaining the status of a mystic... Mysticism through mescalin resembles paper currency during inflation; it was valid, yet its validity was a joke for it was without value... The mystic seeks to cultivate humility, which is the only chemical that will dissolve the ego. It is the ego that is the main obstacle to Enlightenment, a mere change in body chemistry will not eliminate or sublimate it".

The concluding section, The New Synthesis, is of particular interest. It is pointed out that philosophy has now left its ivory tower and that modern governments have a vested interest in comparative philosophy. In an apt phrase the author speaks of `ideological empires': "the war-makers of our times are not so much interested in acquiring territory as in possessing peoples' minds". A telling footnote gives an example of how philosophy is bent to serve the purpose of politics in these ‘empires’—"The Chinese language had no words equivalent to democracy, collectivism etc. The whole vocabulary of Communist jargon was built up by joining several words into one, according to their favorable or unfavorable philosophical and not philological basis".

The difference between the Eastern and Western approach to life is that "Eastern wisdom is far more interested in the noumenon; whereas Western philosophy appears to be far more interested in the phenomenon... this does not mean that a study of phenomena is by itself vain or useless. A whole world of difference depends on whether they are studied before or after being acquainted with the divine". While Western philosophy assumes that mere intelligence is all that is necessary, Eastern wisdom demands that the student must have attained control over himself and his physical body, his emotions and reactions, before wisdom will reveal her secrets. Wisdom is not revealed to "an ethically impure person merely because he is clever at logic and epistemology". The deadliest foe of wisdom is "Materialism, whether it be Marxist Communism or Western Humanism".


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