HEIDEGGER, PHENOMENOLOGY AND INDIAN THOUGHT
Heidegger and The Goddess
– from Theory to Theosis
In his essay on ‘Science and Reflection’1 (Wissenschaft und Besinnung) Heidegger reflects on the thesis that “Science is the theory of the real”. He does so by leading us to recall in our awareness [a better translation of Besinnung than ‘Reflection’] the forgotten historical turns taken by the two words ‘real’ [German wirklich] and ‘theory’.
1. ‘The Real’
Heidegger approaches the notion of ‘reality’ [Wirklichkeit] in terms of his fundamental understanding of ‘Being’ in its ‘essence’ [Wesen]. He understands this essence [Wesen] not as the mere actuality or presence of things but rather as their coming to presence or presencing - an understanding of wesen as a verb rather than a noun. In English we might speak of this understanding of Being as ‘presencing’ through the term ‘be-coming’, taken in a literal sense as the very ‘coming to be’ of beings - their ‘be-ING’.
It is in the context of Heidegger’s understanding of Being as presencing that he comes to rethink ‘the real’ [Wirkliche] not just as that which “has been ‘worked’ or ‘brought forth’ into presence (for example by the calculated actions, operations, or ‘work’ of man) but as that which first brings all things forth “into presencing”. In English we might say: that which ‘works itself’ into and as all things.
Heidegger then reminds us that ‘Wirken’ belongs to the Indo-Germanic stem uerg, whence our word Werk [English ‘work’] and the Greek ergon. He does so in order to emphasise that “Aristotle’s fundamental word for presencing, energeia, is properly translated by our word Wirklichkeit [reality] only if we, for our part, think the verb wirken [to work] as the Greeks thought it, in the sense of bringing hither … bringing forth - into presencing.”
In contrast “Ever since the period following Aristotle, however, this meaning of energeia … has been suppressed in favour of another. The Romans translate, i.e., think, ergon in terms of operatio as actio ...”. As a result “That which is brought forth now appears as that which results from an operatio.” ‘The real’ is reduced to the consequence, ‘effect’ or following result (Er-folg) of an operative action conceived as its ‘cause’. “Even God is [now] represented ... as causa prima, as first cause”. ‘The real’ is reduced to the merely actual or factual as expressed by the German Tatsächlich - meaning some ‘thing’ [Sache] which follows a deed or act [Tat]. Having established itself as a factual consequence or effect of some action or ‘cause’, ‘the real’ now stands against us as a corporeally resistant ‘object’ - this ‘against standing’ being the literal meaning of the German word for the Latin objectum, i.e., Gegenstand. The Greek energeia loses its essential meaning as the presencing or ‘emergence’ (physis) of anything at all - whether a feeling or sensation, thought or thing – and is conceived of instead as a ‘thing itself’, a mere object of measurement for ‘physics’2.
Modern physics has thereby replaced the notion of God as a supreme being or ‘transcendental subject’ with the notion of ‘Energy’ – now elevated theoretically to the status of a transcendental object lying behind all things, including ‘matter’ itself.
Having shown how science came to establish itself as a ‘theory’ which takes ‘the real’ as mere actuality or factuality, and specifically as the causally or operatively established ‘objectivity’ of things [Gegenständlichkeit], Heidegger now returns to consider the modern term ‘theory’3 in the earlier and more original sense expressed by the Greek verb theorein and the Greek noun theoria.
To begin with, Heidegger points out that “The Greek verb theorein grew out of the coalescing of two root words, thea and horan. Thea (cf. ‘theatre’) is the outward look, the aspect, in which something shows itself …. Plato names this aspect in which what presences shows what it is, eidos.” It is from the Greek eidos that the English word ‘idea’ derives - even though ‘ideas’ are still associated only with ‘concepts’ in the ‘mind’ and not with directly perceived aspects of things themselves – their ‘look’.
Hence the relevance of the second root of the word theorein – horan - which Heidegger translates as meaning “to look at something attentively, to look it over, to view it closely.” For “Thus it follows that theorein is thean horan, to look attentively [horan] on the outward appearance [thea] wherein what presences becomes visible, and, through such sight – seeing – to linger with it”.
This however, marks only the beginning of Heidegger’s profound reflections on what he describes as the “lofty and mysterious meaning” of theorein and theoria. For whereas today, we understand ‘theories’ as more or less ‘lofty’ intellectual models or representations of ‘the real’, Heidegger reminds us of the Greek understanding of theorein – not as ‘theory’ but as a way of life: “That particular way of life (bios) that receives its determination from theorein and devotes itself to it, the Greeks call bios theoretikos, the way of life of the beholder, the one who looks upon the pure shining-forth of what presences. In contrast to this, bios praktikos is the way of life that is dedicated to action and productivity.”
As Heidegger puts it, for the Greeks “Theoria, in itself, and not through the utility attaching to it, is the consummate form of human existence. For theoria is pure relationship to whatever presences, to those appearances, that in their radiance, concern man in that they bring the presence of the gods to shine forth.” [my stress]. Thus it is that “…When differently stressed, the two root words thea and orao can read thea and ora. Thea is goddess…ora signifies the respect we have, the honour and esteem we bestow.” From this lightning bolt of profound insight Heidegger concludes: “If we now think the word theoria in the context of the meanings of the words just cited, then theoria is the reverent paying heed to the unconcealment (aletheia) of what presences. Theory in the old, and that means the early but by no means the obsolete sense, is the beholding that watches over truth. Our old high German word wara (whence wahr [true], wahren, and Wahrheit [truth] goes back to the same stem as the Greek horao, ora, wora.” As indeed, do the English words ‘aware’ and ‘awareness’. Indeed they go even further back, to the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root wer – a root common not only to the words awareness and Wahrheit [‘truth’] but also to the words ‘worth’, ‘revere’ and worship.
3. From ‘Theory’ to Theosis
In the light of Heidegger’s insights into what he calls “The essence of theory as thought by the Greeks…” it becomes all too clear how and why this essence “… remains buried when we speak of the theory of relativity in physics, of the theory of evolution in biology, of the cyclical theory of history, of the natural rights theory in jurisprudence.” It remains no less buried in the fashionable scientific search for a ‘Theory of Everything’ – a single equation that explains all things. For the very notion of such a ‘theory’ is a denial of the essentially experiential character of theoria - not only in the sense that Heidegger gives it, but also as it has long been understood from a religious perspective. Strangely, Heidegger makes no reference to the significance attached to the word theoria in Eastern Orthodox theology, where it is understood as the ultimate religious experience of theosis or ‘union’ with God – the Orthodox Christian equivalent of the Hindu understanding of yoga in its root meaning of ‘union’.
In Eastern Orthodoxy, theoria is no mere ‘intellectual’ contemplation of God but a living experience of participation in or ‘union’ with the divine – theosis. Theoria is that through which human beings come not simply to theories ‘of’ or ‘about’ the nature of ‘the real’, but come rather to directly realise their own natural and innate divinity - their divine reality. This realisation is theosis – a divinisation of the human being that corresponds naturally, in the Orthodox tradition, to the humanisation of divinity symbolised by Christ:
St. Athanasius : “God became human so that humans would become Gods.”
St. Maximus the Confessor: “A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to the deification of human nature is provided by the incarnation of God, which makes man God to the same degree as God himself became man.” “…let us become the image of the one whole God … so that we may consort with God and become gods, receiving from God our existence as gods.”
Yet what of Thea - ‘the goddess’? In the terms of Hindu tantric theology, the Christian understanding and experience of theoria as theosis corresponds to the experienced unity (yoga) or ‘non-duality’ (advaita) of the self and a universal and divine awareness (corresponding to the Greek nous). Advaita is no mere ‘theory’ but, like theoria, an awe-filled, reverent and worshipful awareness of ‘the goddess’ or ‘divine feminine’ (Shakti). In Shaiva Advaita this very awareness is the essence of the divine masculine – Shiva. Shakti – the goddess – is understood in the tantras as the presencing of ‘the real’ from and within the universal and divine awareness that is Shiva. She manifests not just as an illusory realm (maya) of things present or actual, but as their very ‘presencing’ (Greek energeia) or ‘shining forth’ (phainesthai), their birth from within the dark womb of that yet deeper dimension of ‘the real’ that is their innermost potentiality to be (dynamis). Indian Advaitic and Orthodox Christian theologies thus unite in their understanding of ‘yoga’ or ‘theosis’ as union with a universal awareness that is the very ‘eye of the soul’ – Shiva’s ‘third eye’. This ‘eye’ is the invisible and divine light of awareness (Sanskrit prakasha / Greek photismos) that pervades even darkness – that which brings all things to light as ‘gods’ or ‘shining ones’ – as thea and theos, devi(s) and deva(s).
1. Heidegger, Martin Science and Reflection, from The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, translated and introduced by William Lovitt, Harper and Row, 1977
2. The modern usage of the word ‘theory’, one which understands it as having to do with the "principles or methods of a science or art (rather than its practice)" is first recorded in 1613. The definition of it as "an explanation based on observation and reasoning" is from 1638. The verb theorise is recorded from 1638.
3. “… the ‘Energeticist Movement’ associated with Wilhelm Ostwald around the turn of the 19th century advocated a World Government based on the use of ‘energy’ as the universal, unifying concept not only for all of physical science, but also for economics, psychology, sociology and the arts … Not accidentally, the Kelvin-Helmholtz doctrine of ‘energy’ became a key feature of Anglo-American geopolitics, from the British launching of Middle East ‘oil politics’ at the beginning of the 20th century … to a new Middle East war.” Tennenbaum, Jonathan Power vs. Energy - The Difference Between Dynamis and Energeia Executive Intelligence Review, November 22, 2002 issue.