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Wittgenstein Gives Religion A Ground That Is Not On Earth But In The Heavenly Heights Or Depths Of Spirit

By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah

 27 Jun 2020

Reading Wittgenstein on the Blessed Life

One version of mystical experience that involves being safe and intoxicated by the miracle of being is what we find in Wittgenstein, the quintessential modern philosopher who initiated two influential movements in philosophy and impacted upon philosophy of religion. His description of being absolutely safe and seeing creation as a miracle are so compelling that we hardly need to entertain any second opinion about the mystical in him or his encounter with the mystical. The cognizance of the fact that there is a world is enough to make one dance with ecstasy and wonder. Wonder is the beginning and end of human wisdom for both philosopher-mystics as diverse as Ibn Arabi and Whitehead. It is time to explore the ideas evoking/invoking/leading to/reflecting Heaven or parasitic on our quest for Heaven or what may appear as some secular substitute or fragmented image of Heaven in Wittgenstein.

      For Wittgenstein the metaphysical self that constitutes us transcends the world, the urges that move us point beyond the world, experiences that we most cherish are of the world beyond the ordinarily familiar world, our ethical and aesthetic dimension is anchored outside the world. For him both the willing subjects and the knowing subjects are one and both are outside of the world, and are the source of our language and world-cognition. Wittgenstein’s statement that ‘God is the meaning of life’ is quintessentially mystical and best understood in light of mystical writings. Underhill’s explication of the meaning of life in mysticism is best commentary on this statement. One can’t be more God intoxicated to equate the most significant thing in life with God.

     Sages like Sankara and Ibn Arabi invites us to experience things afresh, to be open to the Real which alone is really experienced in every experience. Wittgenstein’s endeavour is similar in his invitation to transcend language and thought in order to see what is, to see things sub species aeternitatis, to see solution in aesthetics, to live rather than think the mystery that life is. As Wittgenstein puts it there is no answer as there is no question where nothing can be said.

     “How things stand is God.” “Everything is perfect” and “…my will is world will.” All these statements of Wittgenstein imply a deep conviction about unity and realizing that everything is perfect this very moment or this earth is draped in heaven, in Buddhist (Nagarjunian) terminology, that samsara is nirvana. Wittgenstein’s transcendence of good/evil binary and pleading for a vision of perfect harmony between the self and the “alien will” called God and seeing everything as unalterably perfect makes the same point.

      If mystics are those who know heaven first hand we find Wittgenstein in their camp. All his work was dedicated to the “glory of God” as he once said to his friend Dury. It is in this light that we can understand his unconventional attitude towards secular carriers or vocations, his renunciation of his property, his austerity in life and manners, his casual attitude towards dress, his independence in thought and action, his nostalgia for peasant life in Russia, his alienation from his times that he characterized as dark ages and many puzzles in his biography.

      In 1939 Wittgenstein said,

      “The fact that life is problematic shows the shape of your life does not fit into life’s mould. So, you must change the way you live and, once your life does fit into the mould, what is problematic will disappear. “

      “Or shouldn’t I say rather: a man who lives rightly won’t experience the problem as sorrow, so for him it will not be a problem but a joy rather; in other words for him it will be a bright halo around his life, not a dubious background.”

      This is the crux of mystical theodicy. This is what Buddha said in a different way. Eliminate desire and you will be in peace. Wittgenstein said this quite clearly and wondered what for are amenities. He was the monk in the true sense. 

    ‘Ethics,’ Wittgenstein says, has nothing to do with punishment and reward in the ordinary sense and he adds that “the ethical consequences must lie in the action itself. If we assume that it is a person’s actions and the way those actions are performed that create a life, then the ethical desert of those actions is simply that life itself, and since life and the world are said to be one, the ethical reward is nothing else but the fact with which the world looks back at you. To complete the account let us remember that the face that looks back at our is your own: it is tempting to speculate that your ethical reward is no more nor no less than the discovery of your own character.” From Lao Tzu to Ibn Arabi and Eckhart mystical ethics and its eschatological significance has been almost similarly understood. For mystics like Ibn Arabi people choose their stations in the other world. God only unveils their reality. People judge themselves in the light of the Absolute. Choosing to live inside the cocoon of limiting self-amounts to obstructing Divine Mercy or choosing separation from the Real. Prayer establishes the dialogue between the self and the Other to make life a benediction or unfold its heavenly drape. Refusing to pray – which is, for Ibn Arabi, simply gratitude to Existence for the gift of life – amounts to condemning oneself to self-referring and self-enclosed windowless subjective space.

     Wittgenstein’s 1929 ‘A Lecture on Ethics’ has a remark: I believe the best way of describing [this feeling] is to say that when I have it, I wonder at the existence of the world. And I am then inclined to use such phrases as ‘how extraordinary that anything should exist’ or ‘how extraordinary that the world should exist.’ Now in order to make the world a Garden, wonder is the key. In fact, every therapy for enchantment of the world involves poetry of a sort. Wonder is what makes the world interesting and meaningful.

     Wittgenstein’s suggestion that genuinely religious utterances do not necessarily involve ontological implications and thus mayn’t describe a transcendent reality but do express a fundamental orientation toward one’s terrestrial life helps fight nihilistic consequences of loss of certain theological narratives and modernity’s secularizing critiques. Esoteric currents of religions have already immunized their respective adherents against the virus of despair and widespread complaints about God’s absence or hiddenness or death. Such statements as “Christianity is not a doctrine” – that is, “not . . . a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul” – but rather “a description of something that actually takes place in human life.” In other words: “‘consciousness of sin’ is a real event and so are despair and salvation through faith,” and “[t]hose who speak of such things . . . are simply describing what has happened to them, whatever gloss anyone may want to put on it” relativize the significance of the question or belief of continuation of self beyond the demise of the body.  Too much needn’t be read into negative or positive answer to this question. “It is not necessary that anything need follow from such a conviction” or the notion of immortality appraised as a quasi-empirical hypothesis due to the very language in which it is couched. The assertions that “after death a timeless state will begin” or “at death a timeless state begins” . . . do not notice that they have used the words ‘after’ and ‘at’ and ‘begins’ in a temporal sense, and that temporality is embedded in their grammar and thus it may well be a misunderstanding to construe the notion of immortality “quantitatively as more-of-the-same; more life after this life, more time after death” and what separates the believer and non-believer here is not a difference in their respective post-mortem anticipations” but “the difference is exhibited in their respective existential attitudes towards this life.”  Dury recalls Wittgenstein stating: “It is my belief that only if you try to be helpful to other people will you in the end find your way to God.” It has been rightly emphasized that Wittgenstein sees a connection between ‘the immortality of the soul’ and an experience of responsibility ‘that even death couldn’t stop.’ And that the notion of the immortal soul may itself gain its sense from the ‘feeling’ that even my (or the other’s) death cannot always annul my duty to another.

     Wittgenstein is concerned, above all, with the happy life and that he links with transcendence of desiring or willing self. His problem is ethical and existential and his proposed solution too is on these planes that have little to do with language or representation business. His solution involves contemplating, looking, wondering, loving rather than thinking or questioning. His object (ethical/aesthetical/religious or mystical) is not in the world, is untouched by scientific discoveries or any speculative exercise. His concern is metaphysical and metaphysical is what he calls mysterious, mystical, outside the world, supernatural. He was interested in speaking without words — “conveying thoughts by themselves without words.” He thought, with Goethe, that we need to learn from contemplation of untrammelled nature rather than laboratory experiment and hypothesis that distort the truth. Like Heidegger he found the richness of being to which poets rather than philosophers point out the key to salvation

     Wittgenstein saw religions as “essentially grammars of wonder, and so as holding out the promise of sustaining an openness to wonder.” Religions were “systems of coordinates” for giving “direction to a life fundamentally characterized above all by reverence, which Wittgenstein felt was the highest kind of human life to lead.” Janik and Toulmin note that “the primary concern of the author of the Tractatus is to protect the sphere of the conduct of life against the encroachments from the sphere of speculation.” And: “His world-view expresses the belief that the sphere of what can only be shown must be protected from those who try to say it.”

Thus, Wittgenstein immunizes readers against corrosive effects of thought movements that avoid or fight God/Other. He gives religion a ground that is not on earth but in the heavenly heights or depths of spirit. Life is suffused with a joy and beauty and wonder and an orientation towards the Good that makes it worth living and in a sense unceasing heavenly reward that nothing including death can strip away.

Original Headline: How Philosophers understand Heaven?

Source: The Greater Kashmir


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