Cognitive Linguistics (henceforth CL) was born as a reaction to the Chomskyan school of Generative Linguistics (henceforth GL). Whilst the influence of GL can scarcely be exaggerated, CL is fast gaining ground and could rightly be referred to as a rival paradigm.
Both CL and GL actually subscribe to tenets that are rooted in very old philosophical and linguistic traditions. Panini, for example, analysed the Sanskrit language in his classical text, the Astadhyayi, most comprehensively and meticulously along regional, stylistic, social and pragmatic lines. Tomes have been written on syntactic, morphological and phonological rules, together with rules for variations and optionality – and indeed the deep vs surface structure phenomena Kiparsky, 1979).
Bundgaard (2003) writes about one of the early precursors to generative grammar, and rightly traces some of the fundamental claims arrogated to Chomsky back to the German philosopher Edmund Husserl, as expounded in his famous Logical Investigations. The said work pointed out that language reveals “a lot about the mind” (p. 5), and that language is a discrete combinatorial system. A distinction is also made between “Unsinn” (senselessness) and “Widersunn” (nonsense). An instantiation of the former would be a statement like Shop a go to car be in, where both the word-order and lexical items do not make any sense; an instantiation of the latter would a statement like Colourless green ideas sleep furioussly, where the grammar is acceptable yet the statement is devoid of meaning. Pinker (1994) attributes the latter example to Chomsky, which he used to illustrate the dichotomy between syntax and semantics. Chomsky would also point out that an Unsinn-type statement is not logically possible, whereas a Widersunn-type statement is. Whilst Husserl would not endorse Chomsky’s insistence on treating semantic phenomena almost as an epiphenomenon, we see here that this distinction is not an original one.
Bundgaard then cites Husserl as stipulating that we need to strip language of superfluous verbiage, and find out according to which principles language combines it constituent parts into meaningful wholes. Chomsky takes this to imply that we ultimately need to reduce rules of grammar to a finite set of phrase structure rules, analogous to mathematical formulae, which will generate all possible sentences in any language (Chomsky, 1966). Bundgaard points out that we need to “find a priori rules that specifically govern the combination of linguistics elements” (Bundgaard, 2003: 14). Husserl however did not believe that an analysis of this kind should exclude semantic considerations; in fact, according to Bundgaard, an analysis of this kind should be “semantic through and through” (p. 10).
Husserl’s analysis, then, may be regarded as a semantic combinatorial system, which is an enterprise Chomsky would indeed be averse to endorsing. In fact, it is precisely this fact that caused the rather acrimonious drift to ensue between George Lakoff and Noam Chomsky, and their subsequent ideas. This has been documented in detail by Harris (1993), and alluded to in Botha (1989). Lakoff never intended to work ‘outside’ the generative school by developing what he then called “generative semantics”, but Chomsky saw this as a threat to his own ideas viciously attacked Lakoff for questioning the axioms upon which generative grammar was based.
Bundgaard then goes on to detail why it is important to outline these “syntactic templates”, and illustrates how these said templates cannot dispense with what he refers to as “global semantics”, analogous to what we may call context or pragmatics. He then draws parallels between the approach suggested by Husserl and that of Leonard Talmy, pointing out that the latter claimed that a study of semantics as a genuine combinatorial system must be a systematic study of the kind of structure specified by closed-class elements, ie. linguistic elements which do not admit new members to its set. Bundgaard illustrates this with regard to how using different prepositions form different conceptual structures apropos to the open-class elements in the proposition; hence, the said preposition does more than just fulfil a grammatical role, as traditionally assumed.
The point of Bundgaard’s article serves to illustrate that although one would traditionally take Husserl’s approach to be a precursor to generative grammar, it would actually be more commensurable to draw the analogy between cognitive linguistics and the said approach, and to point out that both GL and CL date back to much older traditions, though the respective names may not have been in vogue.
In his concluding remarks, Bundgaard points out that any analysis of language would have to account for “principles of syntactic combination” (p. 26), but one should not reduce the linguistics enterprise only to this and relegate other aspects of the combinatorial system to epiphenomena; the point is to understand and formalize how such combinations serve as a facilitating, two-way vehicle between thought and the world.
This background is relevant since it serves to illustrate how a relatively modern approach to the study of language has its roots in a tradition which ante-dates Chomskyan linguistics, and should not be viewed solely as a reaction to the latter, as many scholars have assumed – cf. Faucconier’s article, in Janssen and Redeker (1999).
CL is an enterprise quite unlike other schools of thought in that it covers a variety of themes, and the movement cannot be pinned down to a single founder. However, one of the overall goals is ultimately to show how language can give us insight into human nature and thought.
Explaining the relationship between language and the brain, therefore, is meant to explain a substantial part of human nature.
Conceptual Metaphor Theory (henceforth CMT) is one of the sub-themes within the CL paradigm. In a CL context, metaphor is defined as a mapping of a source domain onto a target domain, with concomitant restrictions like the invariance principle, which refers to the fact that these mappings must occur in a way that is “consistent with the inherent structure of the target domain” (as defined by Lakoff in: Evans et al, 2007, p. 279).
By this broad definition, phenomena like synecdoche, simile, metonymy, personification, pathetic fallacy, allegory and parable are conflated. These are primarily literary devices which serve the same purpose conceptually. Attempts have even made to integrate metonymy into CMT; as an aside, Goossens (1990), for example, coined the term ‘metaphtonymy’ in an article discussing how metaphor and metonymy interact. This is indeed a complex and contentious issue, as is the relation between metaphor and blending. It is not clear whether these are distinct processes, or whether one may be subsumed under the other – and if so, which is to be subsumed? In light of this contention, Lakoff and Fauconnier put out a statement clarifying their position on this.
Lakoff refers to his approach as embodied realism, and claims that since we are embodied beings, all our thinking is based on bodily awareness, which expands to other entities and to the world as we grow older. We start off with learning conceptual metaphors, based on our experiences, which become part of the way we think. Lakoff & Johnson (1980) document various conceptual metaphors which we use in our everyday lives, without even recognizing it as such, for example by saying I spent an hour on the computer, we are employing a TIME IS MONEY metaphor, whereby you can “spend” it. In later books, he explains how research in the field of neuroscience is trying to trace the neurological bases of conceptual metaphor. For example, according to this line of thinking, when we see books being piled on top of each other, we see the height rising, which activates one part of the brain; we also notice the amount getting more, which activates another part of the brain. When we see such things often enough, we start to form a minimal neural pathway between these two brain centres, and a metaphor is born. From then on, we automatically start to associate ‘up’ with ‘more’, hence the metaphor UP IS MORE, such that we understand what The price of fuel went up means, even though there is no necessary link between the two. Likewise, we start to associate ‘up’ with ‘good’, such that if someone is low down, we mean that he is immoral; when talking about God, who is the Ultimate Good, we look up, etc. Hence, our sense of morality also has its basis in conceptual metaphor, which is embodied (Lakoff, 1996).
Lakoff also believes that conceptual metaphors are the cogs which make up frames, which govern both our political and religious views. Frames are cognitive schemas which govern the way we function in the world, and are the driving force behind the tacit rules of social decorum and the like. In Lakoff (2008), he explains various cultural narratives in light of framing and conceptual metaphor, with emphasis on how these lead us to embrace either progressive or conservative politics. Lakoff points out that:
We can no longer conduct 21st century politics with a 17th century
understanding of the mind.... In thinking, the old view comes originally
from Descartes' 17th Century rationalism. A view of thought as symbolic
logic was formalized by Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege around the
turn of the 20th Century, and a rationalist interpretation was revived by
Chomsky in the 1950's.
(Lakoff, 2008: 6).
The brain gives rise to thought, amongst others, in the form of conceptual frames, image-schemas, prototypes, conceptual metaphors, and conceptual blends. The process of thinking is not algorithmic symbol manipulation, but rather neural computation, using brain mechanisms and global cognitive tools not modularised for the processing of language only. Hence, it is through our framing and conceptual metaphors that we understand the world around us.
In Lakoff (1996: 245-262), he postulates two models of Christianity, one based on a conservative interpretation, the other based on a liberal one – based on an overall FATHER metaphor. Lakoff’s point is that we conceptualise God and His attributes metaphorically, which guides our interpretation of a sacred text like the Bible, as well as what we take our religion to stand for. He claims that there is a match between a STRICT FATHER interpretation of Christianity and conservative, right-wing politics, and consequently, between a NURTURANT PARENT interpretation of Christianity and progressive, left-wing politics.
Lakoff’s claim that there is a link between the FAMILY metaphor in religious discourse and our political ideologies is rather contentious, and does not form an important part of this term paper. What I am interested here is using this model to see how applicable would this framework be to other schools of religious thought. Does this polarity exist outside of a Judaeo-Christian context, which Lakoff writes about? Is he justified in claiming that frames and conceptual metaphors govern our religious thought and understanding?
More specifically, two questions are considered:
Are the two said family models relevant in a Hindu context – are there alternative models, family-related or otherwise, that we can base our philosophy on?
Even if they are relevant, do we necessarily need to explain our religious understanding in terms of frames or (family) metaphors in the first place?
Brief overview of Hindu Philosophy
Hinduism is a very interesting religion in that there are various schools of thought which fall under the umbrella of Hinduism. Furthermore, Hindus have hundreds of sacred texts which are quite varied, and fall under different categories. These categories will be explained in detail in light of the six main schools of Hindu thought.
One of the mainstream schools go by the name vedanta, which refers to the end portion of the Upanishads, which in turn are the philosophical writings forming part of the Vedas.
There are three main schools of thought which constitute vedantic philosophy, namely:
Dualism (dvaita), propounded by Madhva,
Non-dualism (advaita), propounded by Adi Shankara, and
Qualified non-dualism (vishishtadvaita), propounded by Ramanuja.
What we would consider mainstream Hinduism today falls under the non-dualistic branch, and is called Advaita Vedanta in Sanskrit. Swami Vivekananda revived this school of thought, and is therefore credited with popularizing Vedantic philosophy in modern times, especially in the West. Hence, his writings/teachings form the basis of my study.
Hinduism can be construed as pantheistic, polytheistic, theistic, henotheistic and even atheistic. However, in the Advaita Vedanta context, God is seen as an omnipotent, omniscient and all-merciful Being, in the same vein as the mainstream theistic religions.
I will not go into too much detail here due to space constraints, as it can get quite detailed and nuanced. When relevant, in the analysis section below, I explain more in light of the various metaphors and frames used in context.
Suffice to say that in light of the abstract nature of the subject, it may taken as a given that we will need to concretise our understanding of God specifically, and Divinity more generally, using metaphors. Whether these tie in to metaphors of the family or not remain to be seen, and perhaps we will see that the ensuing schemas are quite novel, and may or may not be consistent within a particular paradigm, as Lakoff assumes it should be.
CMT is used as a tool to analyse a body of work pertaining to Hindu philosophy, specifically focusing on the following texts:
- Vivekananda’s addresses at the Parliament of Religions, convened in Chicago in September 1893;
- Vivekananda’s commentary on a classical Sanskrit text by the saint Patanjali, compiled into a book entitled RAJA-YOGA;
- Transcripts of 21 of Vivekananda’s discourses/lectures given across America and the UK.
The above constitute the bulk of the material found in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda – Volume 1, henceforth CW-1. The edition I have used is the “Mayavati Memorial Edition” published in 1977.
After reading through the text manually, I noted the various metaphors, and grouped them into related frames (or more accurately, perhaps, metaphors at a superordinate level). Thereafter, I searched for key words in an electronic version of the said text, just in case I may have missed some during the manual reading. A concordance program called AntConc (version 188.8.131.52w) was used for this, and a KWIC analysis was done to search for the relevant key words. Of course, human intervention was further required to check which of these words linked to phrases employing them in a metaphorical manner; conceptual metaphor is, by definition, something perceived conceptually, and therefore cannot be detected by a computer program. Sentences like
The balloon went up
The price went up
will be parsed in exactly the same manner by a machine, meaning that they will be considered syntactically homogenous without any appreciation for the fact that one is literal and the other not. Furthermore, specific lexemes cannot be distinguished as literal or metaphorical by the computer; cf. the use of the word ‘father’ in the following sentences:
Vivekananda’s father was a well-known lawyer in the Calcutta region
We must aspire to perfection, just as our Father in heaven is perfect.
If the corpus contained these two sentences, it would simply show two hits when ‘father’ is searched for. The computer has no way of ‘knowing’ when the word is used in a metaphorical sense, and when not – all a concordance program can do is present the user with the word, the number of times it occurs in the corpus, and with a KWIC analysis, the context in which the word occurs. As mentioned, this is why an ex post facto manual reading was necessary even after using the concordance program.
Results: analysis and discussion
The conceptual metaphors found in the texts can be grouped into 24 different frames :
“And of this Indian Mother-Church” (CW-1, p.3)
“India herself, the Motherland, as she already exists” (CW-1, p.3)
“These, then — the Shâstras, the Guru, and the Mother¬land — are the three notes that mingle themselves to form the music” (CW-1, p.3)
“I thank you in the name of the mother of religions” (CW-1, p. 6)
“these sects were all sucked in, absorbed, and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith” (CW-1, p.8)
“Ignorance is the mother of all the evil and all the misery we see” (CW-1, p. 34)
“Blessed, indeed, is the woman to whom man represents the fatherhood of God. Blessed are the children who look upon their parents as Divinity manifested on earth (CW-1, p. 42)
" ‘Thou art our father, and wilt take us to the other shore of this ocean of ignorance’ " (CW-1, p.111)
“Patanjali, the father of the Yoga philosophy” (CW-1, p.125)
“Kapila, the great father of the Sânkhya philosophy” (CW-1, p. 165).
‘Life is infinite, one chapter of which is, "Thy will be done," and unless we realise all the chapters we cannot realise the whole’ (CW-1, p. 197)
“There are all the past chapters, and this present chapter, and there are a whole lot of future chapters before him” (CW-1, p. 266)
“No child is born with a tabula rasa — with a clean, blank page — of a mind. The page has been written on previously” (CW-1, p. 185)
“That shows that consciousness is only the surface of the mental ocean” (CW-1, p. 10)
“[…] the ocean of memory can be stirred up” (CW-1, p. 10)
“[…] my body is one little continuously changing body in an unbroken ocean of matter” (CW-1, p. 13)
“[…] each man is only a conduit for the infinite ocean of knowledge and power that lies behind mankind” (CW-1, p. 69)
“[…] with the help of this body you will cross the ocean of life” (CW-1, p. 82)
“This little wave of the Prana which represents our own energies, mental and physical, is the nearest to us of all the waves of the infinite ocean of Prana. If we can succeed in controlling that little wave, then alone we can hope to control the whole of Prana” (CW-1, p. 84)
“[…] the whole universe was an ocean of thought, he and everyone else had become little thought whirlpools” (CW-1, p. 85)
“In an ocean there are huge waves, like mountains, then smaller waves, and still smaller, down to little bubbles, but back of all these is the infinite ocean. The bubble is connected with the infinite ocean at one end, and the huge wave at the other end. So, one may be a gigantic man, and another a little bubble, but each is connected with that infinite ocean of energy, which is the common birthright of every animal that exists” (CW-1, p. 87)
“Think of the universe as an ocean of ether, consisting of layer after layer of varying degrees of vibration under the action of Prana” (CW-1, p. 88)
“All are parts of the same ocean of Prana, they differ only in their rate of vibration” (CW-1, p. 89)
“[…] this world is only one drop in an infinite ocean” (CW-1, p. 101)
“[…] the waves in the ocean of the mind” (CW-1, p. 104)
“If it [the mind] is clear, and there are no waves, we shall see the bottom. The bottom of the lake is our own true Self; the lake is the Chitta and the waves the Vrittis” (CW-1, p. 112)
“ ‘One moment of company with the holy makes a ship to cross this ocean of life’ ” (CW-1, p. 123)
“This body is the boat which will carry us to the other shore of the ocean of life” (CW-1, p. 124)
“[…] the Purusha so great that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean and falls off by its own nothingness” (CW-1, p. 141)
“The whole universe is one ocean of matter” (CW-1, p. 144)
“[…] the knowledge takes the Yogi across the ocean of birth and death” (CW-1, p. 164)
“[…] the infinite river of souls is flowing into the ocean of perfection, of self-realisation” (CW-1, p. 175)
“Supposing we are materialists, for argument's sake, we shall have to come to this, that the whole universe is simply an ocean of matter, of which you and I are like little whirlpools. Masses of matter are coming into each whirlpool, taking the whirlpool form, and coming out as matter again. The matter that is in my body may have been in yours a few years ago, or in the sun, or may have been the matter in a plant, and so on, in a continuous state of flux. What is meant by your body and my body? It is the oneness of the body. So with thought. It is an ocean of thought, one infinite mass, in which your mind and my mind are like whirlpools” (CW-1, p. 213)
“[…] everyone from the highest angel to the lowest particle of matter is but an expression of that one infinite ocean” (CW-1, p. 214)
“There is, as it were, an infinite ocean behind, and you and I are so many waves, coming out of that infinite ocean” (CW-1, p. 221)
" ‘As so many rivers, having their source in different mountains, roll down, crooked or straight, and at last come into the ocean — so, all these various creeds and religions, taking their start from different standpoints and running through crooked or straight courses, at last come unto THEE’ " (CW-1, p. 222)
“As the gentle falling of the dew at night brings support to all vegetable life, so, slowly and imperceptibly, this divine philosophy has been spread through the world for the good of mankind” (CW-1, p. 222)
“It is only a question of time, and time is nothing in the Infinite. It is a drop in the ocean” (CW-1, p. 238)
“ ‘As all the rivers of the world constantly pour their waters into the ocean, but the ocean's grand, majestic nature remains undisturbed and unchanged, so even though all the senses bring in sensations from nature, the ocean-like heart of the sage knows no disturbance, knows no fear.’ Let miseries come in millions of rivers and happiness in hundreds! I am no slave to misery! I am no slave to happiness!” (CW-1, p. 262)
“I want to love where this mighty river of my love can go, the ocean of love; this rushing tremendous river of my love cannot enter into little pools, it wants the infinite ocean” (CW-1, p. 273)
“But you find out that it is very difficult to cross this ocean [of Maya by] yourself” (CW-1, p. 279)
“[They are] different little whirlpools in this ocean of mind” (CW-1, p. 283)
“The manifold does not destroy the unity. The millions of waves do not destroy the unity of the ocean. It remains the same ocean” (CW-1, p. 284)
“Let us realise [that] we are the infinite power. Who put a limit to the power of mind? Let us realise we are all mind. Every drop has the whole of the ocean in it” (CW-1, p. 286)
“[…] we can send electricity to any part of the world, but we have to send it by means of wires. Nature can send a vast mass of electricity without any wires at all. Why cannot we do the same? We can send mental electricity” (CW-1, p. 138)
“When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current […] towards that point” (CW-1, p. 104)
5. CYCLIC NATURE OF LIFE
“[…] just as in the case of electricity the modern theory is that the power leaves the dynamo and completes the circle back to the dynamo, so with hate and love; they must come back to the source” (CW-1, p. 109)
“We know there is no progress in a straight line. Every soul moves, as it were, in a circle” (CW-1, p. 236)
“The human mind is like that monkey, incessantly active by its own nature” (CW-1, p. 97)
“As the snake is happy in giving up his old skin” (CW-1, p. 180)
“The organs are the horses, the mind is the rein, the intellect is the charioteer, the soul is the rider, and the body is the chariot. The master of the household, the King, the Self of man, is sitting in this chariot. If the horses are very strong and do not obey the rein, if the charioteer, the intellect, does not know how to control the horses, then the chariot will come to grief. But if the organs, the horses, are well controlled, and if the rein, the mind, is well held in the hands of the charioteer, the intellect, the chariot reaches the goal” (CW-1, p. 132)
7. LIGHT vs DARK
“The lamp is constantly burning out” (CW-1, p. 65)
“So we must work faithfully using the prescribed methods, and light will come” (CW-1, p. 72)
“[…] the mind is in three states, one of which is darkness, called Tamas, found in brutes and idiots” (CW-1, p. 112)
“If you boil all their theories down, the residuum will be that” (CW-1, p. 84)
“And when it reaches the metropolis of all sensations, the brain, the whole brain, as it were, reacts, and the result is the full blaze of illumination, the perception of the Self” (CW-1, p. 92)
“[…] each man is only a conduit for the infinite ocean of knowledge” (CW-1, p. 69)
“I have already spoken of the Ida and Pingala currents, flowing through either side of the spinal column” (CW-1, p. 94)
11. PHYSICAL ACTIONS
“Instead of being knocked about in this universe” (CW-1, p. 58)
“The world is ready to give up its secrets if we only know how to knock, how to give it the necessary blow” (CW-1, p. 73)
“Breath is like the fly-wheel of this machine [referring to the body]” (CW-1, p. 80)
“So Pranayama is not breathing, but controlling that power which moves the lungs” (CW-1, p. 85)
“[…] we shall conquer nature, we shall be masters of phenomena of nature” (CW-1, p. 233)
“God's children are your Master's children. [And children are but different forms of the father.] You are His servant” (CW-1, p. 249)
“Wherever there is life, the storehouse of infinite energy is behind it” (CW-1, p. 87)
“On reason we must have to lay our foundation” (CW-1, p. 103)
“The Chitta is always trying to get back to its natural pure state, but the organs draw it out. To restrain it, to check this outward tendency, and to start it on the return journey to the essence of intelligence is the first step in Yoga, because only in this way can the Chitta get into its proper course” (CW-1, p. 113)
“Those Yogis who do not reach perfection die and become gods; leaving the direct road they go into one of the side streets, and get these powers. Then, again, they have to be born. But he who is strong enough to withstand these temptations and go straight to the goal, becomes free” (CW-1, p. 163)
“[…] just as by the telescope and the microscope we can increase the scope of our vision, similarly we can by Yoga bring ourselves to the state of vibration of another plane” (CW-1, pp. 88-89)
18. UP IS BETTER; UP IS SPIRITUALLY EDIFIED
“Whenever a prophet got into the superconscious state by heightening his emotional nature, he brought away from it not only some truths, but some fanaticism also, some superstition which injured the world as much as the greatness of the teaching helped” (CW-1, p. 102)
“What we call knowledge is a lower state than the one beyond knowledge. You must always bear in mind that the extremes look very much alike. If a very low vibration of ether is taken as darkness, an intermediate state as light, very high vibration will be darkness again. Similarly, ignorance is the lowest state, knowledge is the middle state, and beyond knowledge is the highest state, the two extremes of which seem the same” (CW-1, p. 119)
“It [the Vedanta philosophy] is, as it were, the very flower of all the speculations and experiences and analyses, embodied in that mass of literature” (CW-1, p. 220)
“He [Lord Krishna] taught that a man ought to live in this world like a lotus leaf, which grows in water but is never moistened by water” (CW-1, p. 12)
“The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth; or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant, it develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant” (CW-1, p. 19)
“Little do these ignorant, deluded persons dream that whilst they are congratulating themselves upon their miraculous power to transform human hearts, which power they think was poured upon them by some Being above the clouds, they are sowing the seeds of future decay, of crime, of lunacy, and of death” (CW-1, p. 97)
“Then will all sorrows cease, all miseries vanish; the seeds for actions will be burnt, and the soul will be free forever” (CW-1, p. 105)
“Put a seed into the ground and it disintegrates, dissolves after a time, and out of that dissolution comes the splendid tree” (CW-1, p. 110)
20. REASON AS PERSON TO BE FOLLOWED
“On reason we must have to lay our foundation, we must follow reason as far as it leads, and when reason fails, reason itself will show us the way to the highest plane” (CW-1, p. 103)
21. INSTITUTIONS AS TRAPS
“If you take my advice, do not put your neck into the trap. The moment they try to put their noose on you, get your neck out and go somewhere else” (CW-1, 267)
“We have got ourselves caught in the trap, and we will have to work out our freedom” (CW-1, 141)
“Buddhism ... broke the chains of the masses” (CW-1, p. 257)
“Those that only take a nibble here and a nibble there will never attain anything”
(CW-1, p. 99)
“[…] sound symbols play a prominent part in the drama of human life” (CW-1, p. 45)
As mentioned, these metaphors are only a portion of those found, but I believe it gives an accurate overview of the crux of Vivekananda’s key ideas from the said texts. Most metaphors are attached to frames which are unsurprising in the sense that they are perfectly commensurable with common sense, in sync with other schools of thought (including Occidental ones), and therefore require little explanation to be interpreted.
The FAMILY frame gives us an interesting take on how Vivekananda conceives India, Hinduism and the key exponents of the various schools of Hindu thought. He believes that India is oldest cultured society in the world, and therefore refers to it as the “Mother-Church”, “Motherland”, etc. Likewise, Hinduism being the oldest religion known to man is referred to as “the mother of all religions”, ostensibly implying that all other religions are off-shoots from this original way of life. He qualifies this later on by referring to Judaism as the oldest Occidental religion, and Hinduism as the oldest Oriental religion, and elsewhere adds Zoroastrianism: “Three religions now stand in the world which have come down to us from time prehistoric — Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism” (CW-1, p. 8). His general point though is that Hinduism is unique in that “Judaism failed to absorb Christianity and was driven out of its place of birth by its all-conquering daughter” (CW-1, p. 8). Furthermore, only “a handful of Parsees” (CW-1, p. 8) remain as a shadow of the grandeur that may have once been. Hinduism, however, embraced sect after sect over the thousands of years of its existence, ostensibly questioning the universality and applicability of Vedic. Yet, “like the waters of the seashore in a tremendous earthquake it receded only for a while, only to return in an all-absorbing flood, a thousand times more vigorous, and when the tumult of the rush was over, these sects were all sucked in, absorbed, and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith”, that being Hinduism (CW-1, p. 8). Hence, the various schools of thought that have sprung up over the years have never become break-away factions, with the exception, perhaps, of Buddhism, though that too may need to be qualified.
Regarding the BOOK frame, Vivekananda explains nature (both human nature and the natural environment) as a kind text that, with the right kind of ‘literacy’, we can understand, interpret and come to grips with. The knowledge we gain from this would be, ultimately, an understanding of who we are, and where we fit in to the grander scheme of things – the realization that we are part and parcel of this universe, not a separate entity, as we think we are, whilst still in our ‘illiterate’ state. The means by which we would attain the kind of ‘literacy’ which would enable us to ‘read’ this book would be the various spiritual practices delineated in the various texts, specifically the eight-fold practice of Raja-yoga.
Vivekananda also describes the human mind as a “blank page” which has been “written on previously”, and categorically declares that “no child is born with a tabula rasa” (CW-1, p. 185); hence, he is a classical empiricist in that he subscribes to the Lockean axiom, viz. that “there was nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses” (Uzgalis, 2010). This may sound contradictory, but can be understood if one bears in mind that Eastern thought subscribes to the doctrines of reincarnation and metempsychosis; whilst actual memories are generally eradicated after death, the predilections embedded in one’s being remain. These are called samsaras. Even concrete memories are believed to be recorded in the ether, and can be tapped in to.
The most pervasive frame used by Vivekananda is that of WATER. The human mind (Chitta, in Sanskrit) is described as either as a lake, or an ocean. When the mind is active, there are ‘waves’ created on this ocean, and the more sensory stimulation we are subjected to, the more ‘waves’ we create in our minds, causing us to be more restless. When we restrain our senses, we allow these ‘waves’ to subside, thereby enabling this ‘ocean’ to subside. The aim of yoga is to get the mind to be as calm as possible, since the mind, though necessary to function in everyday life, precludes us from getting in touch with our intuitive self, which enables the individual soul (jivatman) to connect with the cosmos, which can be seen as the Greater Soul (Paramatman), of which the individual soul is a part – separate only insofar as the wave is ‘separate’ from the ocean. Memories are like bubbles which sink (sic) into the ‘ocean’, and can be called up (remembered). Memories from long ago sink deeper, but never disappear – this includes memories from previous births, which is why the “ocean of memory” can always be “stirred up” (CW-1, p.10).
Advaita Vedanta holds that the world does not really exist. In this sense, Vivekananda may be deemed an idealist. The world as we see it is merely an illusion, and with the dawn of the relevant knowledge, we will see that what we once perceived as something real, will dissipate into nothingness – the world is just a conglomeration of ideas. In CW-1, Vivekananda alludes to an incident regarding Humphrey Davy, the famous British chemist, where whilst teaching a class he was overpowered by some kind of gas which heightened his sensory perception, and during that moment he was able to see through the phenomenon (the term being used in the Kantian sense) and perceive the nounenon behind the forms, whereby Davy described the “whole universe” as “an ocean of thought”, and every person thereby, a “little thought” whirlpool in this ocean (CW-1, p. 85).
The concept of Prana is an important one, and may be defined as the underlying, animating force which pervades the universe. In the context of the Raja-yoga text which Vivekananda provides a commentary on, it is important to note that this particular text is based on the Sankhya, the details of which are not important, except that there is a belief that beyond this Prana is something called Purusha, which is Supreme Intelligence. The goal then of Raja-yoga would be to tap into this cosmic Prana by controlling this Prana housed within your own body, after which you can tap into the Purusha. Unlike Advaita Vedanta, the Sankhya philosophy does not subscribe to this idea of oneness. Hence, the very idea of ‘merging’ into an ‘ocean’, as the Vedantins would like to, is foreign. This is why, in this context, he now talks about us as housing “little waves” of Prana, which we must control, and will enable us to tap into the “infinite ocean” of the greater Prana, so to speak (CW-1, p. 84). This would give the practitioner various powers, detailed in the text. Furthermore, if we do not allow ourselves to be distracted by these powers, we would be able to tap into the Purusha, which is “so great that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean”, and thereby attain enlightenment (CW-1, p. 141).
Scarcely is there ever mention of God in Vivekananda’s writings. This may be because the word connotes something foreign to Hindu philosophy. When describing the “infinite ocean”, and its “tiny bubbles” and “little waves” all being part of it (CW-1, p. 87), the analogue in this context for the ocean would be what the Western mind would call God. What marks the Hindu conception of God as different here is that people, the world, the universe (all analogues for the bubbles, waves, etc.) are not separate from each other, or from God; a large wave and a smaller wave are separate only in a very artificial sense, such that “everyone from the highest angel to the lowest particle of matter is but an expression of that one infinite ocean” (CW-1, p. 214). The radical thing about this belief is that there is no qualitative difference between one wave and another, even if one is, for the moment, bigger than the other. Hence, every “drop has the whole of the ocean in it” (CW-1, p. 286), meaning that we are really the same as each other, and indeed as God. The body we have gives us a false, temporary form, which precludes us from merging with God, like a wave that gets thrown out and ‘forgets’ to go back to the ocean, where it belongs. The belief is that every being will one day merge into the Cosmic Consciousness we call God, hence the proclamation that “the infinite river of souls is flowing into the ocean of perfection” (CW-1, p. 175).
The CIRCUIT frame conceives of the body as a conduit for thoughts, which behaves like electricity. This does not only refer to nerve currents ‘flowing’ in the central nervous system, but also to the idea that certain people can transfer their feelings and thoughts to other people, as if by wireless technology. Furthermore, Vivekananda claims that the entire universe is pulsating with energy, which every person can tap into. If the prescribed methods are followed, every person can tap into this energy and become a powerful dynamo, “flowing in an unbroken current” (CW-1, p. 104).
Regarding the CYCLIC frame, Vivekananda believed that strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a straight line, even in the context of basic Euclidean geometry; it only seems that way from our limited perspective. Even motion can never occur in a straight line. He explicitly states that “every motion is in a circle” (CW-1, p. 109), and illustrates this using the following hypothetical thought experiment: if we were somehow able to take an object and project it into space with enough power, and live long enough, assuming the object encounters no obstructions, would “come back exactly to your hand”. He then concludes that any “straight line, infinitely projected must end in a circle” (CW-1, p. 109). In recent times, this notion has gained increasing popularity in light of Einstein’s theories of relativity, which has empirically proven that space-time is indeed curved, and that the Euclidean axioms do not apply to space-time geometry. However, Vivekananda takes this as a basis to make a metaphysical point, namely that we are all going to go back where we came from: we are on a path of learning, and will eventually end up where we started, at the very beginning of time, in a state of sunyata (nothingness), being one with the universe. That is why every soul moves “in a circle” (CW-1, p. 236). Vivekananda also explains that the emotions and thoughts that you send out will always come back to point of origin, as it is like the power which “leaves the dynamo and completes the circle back to the dynamo” (CW-1, p. 109).
I have not discussed the other frames as the same themes run through them in different ways. The remaining metaphors listed above can be understood within this context. Nevertheless, an in-depth analysis of all the frames and their concomitant metaphors mentioned here will require scores more to be written – far beyond the scope of this paper.
The FAMILY frame was indeed used, but certainly not with the primary aim of portraying God as a father figure of some sort, or even as a nurturant parent, as can be seen from the examples cited above. Hence, Lakoff is incorrect in his prediction that our political views are necessarily based on our conceptions of the government as a parental figure, and that we superimpose these views consistently onto our religious beliefs. Hence, Lakoff’s “guess […] that what makes conservative Christians conservative is that they interpret their religion as requiring a Strict Father model of the family” may apply to Christians and/or American politics, but does not apply in the Eastern context since there is no necessary connection between one’s political views, and one’s religious views (Lakoff, 1996, pp. 247-248). Also, there is no consistent family metaphor used to conceptualise God, as Lakoff predicts.
It is evident, then, that Vivekananda’s interpretation of Hindu lore sets it apart from most other traditions in that there is no concept of evil, hell and punishment, for example. None of the metaphors employed frame any issue along retributive lines, and there is no notion of God as an authority figure who needs to be feared in any sense.
Though there are analogues with other Eastern traditions, what we see here is a claim that humanity is one, not only qualitatively the same as each other, but the idea is that the whole of creation is essentially a manifestation of this one essence. This is what sets Advaita Vedanta apart from other schools of Hindu thought, and from other religious traditions.
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