A (Martin): By the evidence of the ages – of innumerable sages and mystics, their outpourings, and the teachings they left us that are like the fruits of wonderful trees – the answer has to be yes! They tell us, especially to those capable of fathoming their words (‘those who have ears’), that the depth of understanding what is real and inescapable, reality itself, is practically limitless, to the point of becoming one with it in a seamless unit – no more subject-object distinction, the root of suffering.

And that is so because, as Matthew Arnold put it referring to some people: … ‘He who makes the determined effort to see life steadily and see it whole…’. There is a caveat, though: ‘Without love, the mind cannot understand’ – Sine desiderio mens non intelligit (Nicholas of Cusa). Is love anything more, or other, than that determination Matthew Arnold was speaking of? That is a high price, or is it not?

27 thoughts on “Reality/Existence

  1. Dear Martin,

    When he writes of seeing life steadily and whole, Matthew Arnold is not ‘referring to some people’ but to Sophocles, one of his lifetime guides to fruitful living; nor does he mention making ‘a determined effort’.

    Arnold writes,
    “Be his
    My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul,
    From first youth tested up to extreme old age,
    Business could not make dull, nor passion wild:
    Who saw life steadily and saw it whole.”

    In his ‘On Learned Ignorance’ Nicholas of Cusa says this about our ability to understand ‘reality itself’: “It is clear…that all we know of the truth is that the absolute truth, such as it is, is beyond our reach. The more profoundly we learn this lesson of ignorance, the closer we draw to truth itself.” Nicholas’ thought rests in the paradox or mystery that while individuals exist in number, weight and measure, and God exists without being added to or diminished by these individual things, both exist without confusion in each other. Within this unknowable whole the individual lives in both humility and dignity.


  2. Hello Martin.

    Without love, the mind cannot understand.
    Sine desiderio mens non intelligit.
    – Nicholas of Cusa

    Lovely quote. Love means so many different things to different people/contexts. What do you think Nicholas meant by love here?


  3. Hi Rick,

    I don’t wish to steal Martin’s thunder and realize we’re off the beaten path here so I beg Dennis’ indulgence, but to answer your question – ‘desiderio’ is properly translated ‘longing’ or ‘desire’. For Nicolas, mystical theology is an elevated wisdom dangerous for the ‘unlearned’. Part of its danger results from the fact that to those accustomed to conventional reasoning, the statements of mystical theology will sound ‘strange and discordant’ and will often seem to ‘contradict themselves’. Because of this an intense desire to understand is crucial; for this alone will motivate the ‘unlearned’ to persist in a way (via) which seems to confound ordinary reason. In his dialogue ‘Idiota de sapientia’ Cusa has one character, the orator (i.e. philosopher), persuade the layman to continue only by convincing him of his ‘impassioned desire’ to learn more about this ineffable wisdom. And in fact, the greater part of the first half of the book concerns the affective state required by the mystical disciple in order at all to proceed in learned ignorance.


    • Rick,

      Thanks for the response.

      Love and passion, desire for knowledge, realization, enlightenment all makes sense. Mumukshutva, right?

      But I wonder if it goes beyond that into the love as felt connection and shared being? What do you think?


  4. I suppose the basic problem with the word ‘love’ is that, in everyday usage, it always refers to something else or someone else. And, of course, in reality there IS nothing else. ‘Love of Self’ is likely to be interpreted by most people as narcissism. So I agree with Rick R here – it refers to ‘love of truth’; the overrriding desire to discover the ‘meaning of life’ etc. Maybe not so far from mumukShutva?


    • Dennis,

      Mumukshutva is what I thought of too. Hunger and passion for Truth. Was the author Nicholas of Cusa a soft/hard nondualist? If he wasn’t he might have been using ‘love’ to refer to a lover and loved.



  5. Hi, Rick and Rick R,

    Pardon me, I am not familiar with the work of Nicholas of Cusa.

    But recently I happened to post a short excerpt “On Love” at an FB Group. I copy-paste below:

    On Love:

    Did you experience those indefinable pangs of sweet pain and longing to be in close proximity with the object of your love?

    Does not matter what it is that made you pine for it. It could have been a particular model of a car or an intense desire to visit a place or the attractiveness of the other person. Or it could have been even the deity, your personal or favorite god or goddess.

    You feel a passionate yearning to be with the cherished object – be that may a thing, a person or a God. You desire to tightly hug or possibly meld into it, and close the gap of perceived separation between you and the object of your adoration. You like to erase the distance between the two of you. You want to unite with it. You want to be one with it. You want to merge into it. You want to forget your ‘personality’ and dissolve your ‘sense of separate self,’ into the object of your worship. You wish that all the borders that set you apart as a distinct ‘person’ should just evaporate.

    Love for many of us is a feeling that defines the way “I” connect to the “other.” We usually conceive it to be a parameter that governs the relationship between two human beings or a person and a thing. And mostly it is seen as an obsessive feeling mixed with deep emotion. Our culture glorifies such an emotion; poets write sentimental ballads; composers make soulful music; singers render melodious tunes; writers and artists immortalize it through their stories and paintings or sculpture. Love triangles and quadrilaterals, jealousies and cheating are the standard staple for cinematic drama, novels and even myths.

    But we often wrongly define what love is because of our misunderstanding. Youngsters mistake their testosterone-driven lust to be love and some romantics project their infatuation as love. The much-admired mother’s love for her newborn and the young ones, pardon me for saying it, is also a misnomer. It is actually the natural protective genetic instinct of the mother, driven by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, in the interest of the propagation of her progeny.

    Quite often we also see that what we name as mother’s love is a feeling of possessiveness on the part of the mother for her little ones. If it is truly an expression of selfless Universal love towards one and all, the mother’s love would not have been confined to her own offspring! As people age and become more and more dependent on one another, a bond develops between any two mature adults. Even this relationship cannot be called strictly love. It is a reflection of their growing mutual dependence because each one is in need of the other, once again the hormone oxytocin playing a role in sustaining the attachment between the two.

    Therefore, much of the claptrap that usually goes by the name of love is emotional stuff that belongs to the domain of the emotional mind and it is not, really speaking, true Love!

    Please appreciate that whatever I stated above should not in any way be taken as a condemnation of the affectionate relationships between individuals. Nor is it a denigration, even remotely, of this emotion. I do not even suggest that such a relationship is of an inferior variety.
    These feelings have undoubted value and possess irrisible significance in the maintenance of a sane order in human interactions. They contribute enormously towards the sustenance of a healthy society.

    But what we are discussing here is pure philosophy. You may call it utterly theoretical; but let us persist with the arguments and see where they will lead us to.

    Love, in fact, is the absence of “otherness.”

    Love is that indefinable quality of complete Oneness. There is no sense of a separate ‘me’ existing here screening, judging, allowing or disallowing some other person or thing distinct from me to appear. Love is like the open space that welcomes all.

    — From the Article “The Enigma of Deep Sleep” by yours truly.

    Nicholas being a mystic, perhaps, realized “Love” as the “absence of otherness,” which really happens when the individuating “me-ness” is dissolved!


    • Dear Ramesam,

      Your variations on a theme reminded me of a homily I attended many years ago given by a Jesuit priest who had his own notion of ‘pure philosophy’. Using a series of what seemed to me then very clever arguments interspersed with references to science and Freud along with a generous sprinkling of biblical allusions, he tried to convince a group of incredulous young men (myself included) that their concern with the opposite sex, when seen in the light of eternal redemption, amounted to little more than the selfish and momentary thrill of ejaculation. To our credit, we remained lustily unconvinced.

      Bene vobis!

      • Rick,

        Lust trumps just about everything for a young man, right? I remember the feeling, the power of it, the borderline insanity! It’s hugely energizing and often blinding. DNA single mindedly looking for survival and variation!

        • ‘Lust’ has unfortunate theological connotations. Most young people have healthy sexual appetites which they manage to integrate more or less successfully into an unexceptional way of life.

    • Ramesan,

      Your and my understanding of love are virtually identical. And thank you for saying you don’t denigrate conventional forms of love. We humans do the best we can.

      I see love as a felt-sense of shared being. Loving and liking are nontrivially different things, not to be confused.


  6. Hi Rick R,

    Now that you are wiser and older (perhaps after several K e-lations), and having heard Shankara at 4.3.21, BUB, you agree that “we remain happily convinced” on what true Love is!
    And I am sure Rick doesn’t disagree.


    • Dear Ramesam,

      Typical of the mindset of the major (male-dominated) religions, all of which posit a spurious dualism between the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘material’ while invariably denigrating the latter, are these rebarbative passages from Ramana Maharshi :

      “The Sage Dadhyangatharvana, who had experienced [the bliss of] Self, once said, “The pleasure that Indra enjoys with his wife, Ayirani, is not better than the pleasure enjoyed by a dog with its bitch.”

      “Those worthless people with minds lacking in purity, will dip only into the pit [i.e. vagina], the filthy spring of sex; they will never reject it and lovingly take a bath, drowning in the ocean of the supreme bliss of Siva.”

      “Those ignorant people who have not experienced the bliss of consciousness will esteem the other pleasures, said to begin with the pleasure of the despicable female sexual organ, and will be tossed about by them. Even at the moment of death they will pine away, lusting after them, and perish.”

      These sentiments can be multiplied ad nauseam from the world’s so-called enlightened ‘spiritual’ literature.

    • Hi Rick

      Your quotes I believe come from Guru Vachaka Korai – though I’m not sure about the last quote.

      GVK was written by Muruganar, and reviewed by Ramana. Muruganar was a married householder, who gave up married life to become a sannyasin at Ramanashram – even though his wife pleaded with him not to do so. He was given to poetical exposition, and Ramana rarely changed what others had written, unless it was outright wrong.

      • Hi Venkat,

        You’re right about the Ramana quotes. The third is section number 586 on page 249 of the David Godman edition. And yes, as Ramana’s disciples generally regard Guru Vachaka Korai as the most authoritative collection of his spoken teachings, largely because they were personally checked and revised by Ramana, there is no reason to think that Muruganar has misrepresented those teachings, though his literally bent may have made them more pointedly repellent.

        As an aside, when my wife read those passages she turned to me and said “fear and loathing in Tiruvannamalai’.

        All the best

        • Ha! I typed ‘literally bent’? Should have been ‘literary’. One too many beers, I suppose.

        • Hi Rick, when you read Ramana’s written works, or Maharshi’s Gospel, or Talks, you never get a sense of the tone with which Muruganar wrote those verses. Ramana did not condemn people’s lifestyles or tell them how to live; and nor did he differentiate between sexes. So I think it is reasonable to assume that this is Muruganar’s own predilections being overlaid on Ramana’s teaching of letting go of desire.

          • Hi Venkat,

            I appreciate your comments. Not to put too fine a point on it, in the everyday running of the ashram, Ramana did differentiate between the sexes. Women were not allowed in the ashram at night and could not sleep on the premises. During their periods, women were not allowed to enter the ashram nor were they given ashram food, as they were considered impure at the time.

            It’s clear that like the rest of us Ramana was not always consistent. Despite his claim that “All are equal here”, restrictions remained in place at the ashram. According to Chadwick, Ramana objected to Brahmins sitting with the non-Brahmins. The dining room was divided into two by a screen almost the whole width of the room. Ramana sat at right angles to the screen and could be visible on both sides. One side were the Brahmins; the other side the rest. This was done at Ramana’s insistence: “Not only did he allow it but he insisted on it.” Ramana said that he was not to be used as an excuse to do something that you would consider wrong at home.

            He emphasized the importance of treating animals ethically. He referred to the principle of samabuddhi: the principle of equal treatment to man and animal, citing the Bhagavad Gita 5:18. Ramana loved animals and treated them as humans. He considered dogs his disciples, even though Brahmins considered them as unholy. Yet when Evans-Wentz asked Ramana whether it was right to take the life of another person, whether in war or execution of a murderer, and suggested that it was not right to take any life, since God was immanent in all, Ramana said that for the realized person, the loss of several or all lives either in this world or in all the three worlds makes no difference. He referred to the Gita, 18:7. (Talks, 12-13).


          • Rick

            Ramana did not differentiate in terms of his teaching. He generally did not get involved in ashram management, and he did expect people to follow hindu customs as you noted. He was not trying to be a social reformer, but rather to encourage people to focus inwards.

            With regard to the Evans-Wentz discussion, one needs to read the whole piece to get the context: E-W is trying to pose theoretical questions, which Ramana (and most sages) tended not to entertain. His response here is a theoretical advaitic answer of how a jnani would behave, in accordance with Krishna’s teaching to Arjuna, of fighting a just war, with detachment and no desire for the fruits. Also for Ramana, there was just ajata, no world and no one. When he was being beaten by robbers, he stopped his attendants fighting back. Similarly his care for animals.

            As we have already discussed, there is no morality for a jnani, because a jnani has no action and sees no difference; he does not participate in a world that does not exist; and if he does, it is like a Janaka or Krishna, but even then it is not for his own sake. This also explains why he encouraged people to follow their customs – so as not to confuse them, and rather focus on the essential: self-enquiry.

          • “During their periods women were not given ashram food to eat, nor were they allowed to enter the ashram. On one particular month none of my relatives was there, nor could I arrange for my food elsewhere. Since I had no one to feed me I was forced to fast. I sat in a stone shed outside the ashram, where beggars usually spent the night. Bhagavan enquired about me and was told that I would not be coming for three days . . .
            ‘Bring her in and feed here decently’ ordered Bhagavan.’
            Everybody was shocked, for it was a clear breach of all rules and customs.
            ‘But she is impure’ they all protested
            ‘Who is pure and who is impure? All are one, all are the same’.
            One needs to know the South Indian brahmin to understand what a crisis Bhagavan had created. The rules governing women and their periods were most severe and were rigidly enforced . . . Bhagavan wanted to go to the kitchen himself to bring me some food., but the devotees asked him to wait. They brought some food and fed me in front of him. An ancient rule was broken and he sanctified the breach with his presence . . . Some understood, but many looked daggers at me or scolded me for polluting them all by causing them to feed me.”
            – Sampurnamma, kitchen worker (from Godman’s ‘The power of the presence’ vol 3).

  7. There is also this quote. on love, attributed to St. Augustine:

    ‘Love and do what you will’, which has profound implications. You have all probably read/heard it previouly.

    • Dear Martin,

      Heretics, Augustine believed, imperil their “spiritual health”; they are destined to suffer the torments of hell. Thus, those who truly “love their neighbor” will recognize their “duty” to compel these “wandering sheep.” Righteous persecutors are like physicians who try to help a “raving madman,” for heretics “commit murder on their own persons.” When motivated by love, persecutors cannot do evil: “Love and do what you will.”
      Profound implications indeed, especially for those on the receiving end of Augustine’s ‘loving’ touch.

      In his essay “What I Believe” Bertrand Russell analyzes the components of the good life:

      “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. Neither love without knowledge, nor knowledge without love can produce a good life. In the Middle Ages, when pestilence appeared in a country, holy men advised the population to assemble in churches and pray for deliverance; the result was that the infection spread with extraordinary rapidity among the crowded masses of supplicants. This was an example of love without knowledge. The late war afforded an example of knowledge without love. In each case, the result was death on a large scale.

      Although both love and knowledge are necessary, love is in a sense more fundamental, since it will lead intelligent people to seek knowledge, in order to find out how to benefit those whom they love. But if people are not intelligent, they will be content to believe what they have been told, and may do harm in spite of the most genuine benevolence. Medicine affords, perhaps, the best example of what I mean. An able physician is more useful to a patient than the most devoted friend, and progress in medical knowledge does more for the health of the community than ill-informed philanthropy. Nevertheless, an element of benevolence is essential even here if any but the rich are to profit by scientific discoveries.”


  8. […no sabiendo, toda ciencia trascendiendo.] Este saber no sabiendo es de tan alto poder, que los sabios arguyendo jamás le pueden vencer; que no llega su saber a no entender entendiendo.

    [… not knowing, all science transcending]. ‘This unknowing knowing is of such power, that the wise, “arguing” as they may, can never surpass; for their knowing does not reach to the knowing that is an unknowing. –St. John o the Cross.

    • Dear Martin,

      You may be interested in perusing Aryasomayajula Ramamurty’s instructive if not wholly unbiased comparative study of the theologies of Shankara, St. John of the Cross, and the great Sufi mystic and poet Rumi in the last chapter of his book “The Advaitic Mysticism of Sankara”.

      Kindest regards

      • Thank you, Rick. I have, and read, most of what is in that book, which I found of much interest. I did some underlining of particular sentences: ‘…seeing the ultimate uselessness of both rason and revelation, Shankara tried to transcend them both in realizing the truth free from all superimpositions (whether by the mind or the scriptures)’.
        ‘What can be described positively is not the ultimate experience as such, but that which is conditioned by our understanding. Even words such as “Brahman,”Atman, “bliss”, “infinitude”, etc. fail with respect of what is indescribable and inexpressible (niruktam)’.

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