Jaspers and the Gita (or “Transzendieren” and jñāna mārga)


Roads to Rome

Spiritually I am a lost case. At least, that is what I thought. I tried all kinds of prayers and meditations, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, in the lotus position, lying, kneeing, contemplating, thinking, not thinking, breathing through the mouth, the nose, eyes closed or open and starring, and so forth.

Of course, maybe not all, but many roads lead to the divine, which leaves us sometimes with the paradox of choice: the more choices we have, the unhappier we are, for we do not know which will eventually be the right one (although there might not be a right or wrong choice at all). For this or some other reason, I always had the feeling to wander on the wrong path.

Three vehicles to enlightenment

It took me many years of bhajana, omkara, pranayama, etc. until I came across the Bhagavad Gita. It was there, that I stumbled upon my path. The Gita emphasises three ways of unifying with the highest potential: bhakti, karma, and jñāna mārga. (There are, by the way, also in Taoism three quite similar vehicles to enlightenment, the complete union with the Tao, wu-chi.)

The first is the path of love, of devotion towards God, the emotional and, at the same time, easiest way. The second, which is one of the quintessential themes of the Gita, is the path of acting. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer describes it accurately as the “external accomplishment of action with internal world renunciation”.

Jñāna mārga

Although this is an inspiring path as well, I want to focus on the latter: jñāna mārga. It is the theoretical approach, the path of wisdom. A chariot of knowledge that is not mislead by our senses.

This kind of knowledge is not to be mistaken for scientific knowledge, although they are not entirely separate. Scientific knowledge prepares us for higher wisdom. It is a partial truth, which can point towards the supreme truth.

For me that was a revelation, as that is what I pretty much did most of the time: read, write, educate myself, and accumulate knowledge. But was I also moving towards wisdom?

Knowledge is funny like that. Initially knowledge, enlightenment of the other kind, makes you doubt supernatural, non-empirical phenomena. However, there is a point – at least for me – where you start believing again.

Karl Jaspers

It is a contradictory, never-ending detour: by knowing you know that true knowledge is never to be known. But why then bother at all and attempt to know? The German philosopher Karl Jaspers is able to answer this question for us.

He believed that philosophy was undergoing a crisis, becoming superfluous, as it was assimilating itself increasingly to modern science. For him real philosophical thought was supposed to go beyond this. This “philosophical believe” is supposed to “transcend” us to the philosophia perennis, the sanātana dharma, by leaving the sphere of object and subject duality.

He did not say that we are able to become permanently one with the eternal truth, “dem Umgreifenden”, for knowledge is always subject to duality – the thinker and the thing that is being thought. In order to reach the higher, the world equips us with picklocks which are simultaneously also our locks.

It is as paradox like everything else. Yet, only the paradox can, as Jaspers writes, encompass everything. Only that way subject and object, being and non-being are unified.

Thus, according to Jaspers, there were those glimpses of light, those moments where we transcend. If the object disappears one cannot seize the actual being, but one can become fulfilled with it. There is a metaphysical step here. One does not know any longer. The knower and the known become one. Jaspers and the Gita had a lot of parallels in that way.

Therefore, this is my religion. These words are my quotidian mantra. You are reading inked meditation at this very moment. However, did I succeed? Did I transcend? You tell me. For as already Socrates once said: “I know that I know nothing.” But that I know very well. And don’t forget: nothing is everything.



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