Journey of a Transcendental Anthropology – Series Prologue

Series Prologue

I am pleased starting these series. By referring to a transcendental anthropology, pursuing a discipline within academic anthropology is not necessarily my aim, although I have a master in cultural anthropology. In the first place, it simply describes a perspective I take on the human world. A perspective, based on the premise that the human being is a transcendental being, who should be appreciated in this light. In my experience, this is a meaningful and illuminating perspective. Further, I believe it is a perspective that is needed in the world of today. For discourse tends to become confused a lot in horizontal contrasts and trivialities, while a vertical appreciation has gone far out of reach. I believe that more wisdom is needed and that this evolves by its nature from a vertical source.

We are going through times of ideological rapture, divergence of worldviews, clashes of civilisations, and geopolitical struggles strangled by misconceptions. A highly opportunistic dynamic has evolved in the information space. Truth is the first casualty of war, is the telling phrase, and being aware of that should not be controversial. The world is constrained in an increased unpredictability, where any direction that is taken remains rather diffuse. Like a day-by-day trial and error. An appreciation of our world, and the dynamics in it, from a transcendental perspective, could contribute greatly to more constructive direction to a humanly sustainable future, in my view.

The transcendental as an immediate reality that is fused in living has got pretty much lost, at least in many parts of the modern Western world. This may pose a risk for human living being lead astray, disconnecting from a basic awareness of its own essential nature. Signs of this already abound plenty. It is prudent to return to remembering the transcendental nature of living and apply it to better understand our world and ourselves. In a certain way, this constitutes for me also a practice in phenomenology, though this is a philosophical discipline. Since I see the transcendental nature of human being to be its very essence, and primordial existence.

Why speak of transcendental, and not for example spiritual? Referring to the transcendental nature of human being, one might just as well speak of man’s spiritual nature. But ‘’spiritual’’ has become such a very diluted term and could be associated with many different things. It would appear to be a dysfunctional term in its use, not providing the direction in perception that I would mean to accomplish. Transcendental is a more neutrally descriptive term, and transcendence would be the essence of any spiritual endeavour.

These series will consist of a range of essays. With each I intend to go through specific movements, along the route demonstrating main aspects of a transcendental anthropological vantage point. Rather essential to this will be to describe my more than significant source for this. My anthropological fieldwork studies have revolved around the life and work of a contemporary mystic – or the term I prefer using, ‘’sage’’ – and the unique practice of mysticism that has evolved through his life. Ath some point I will depart from using the term ‘’mysticism’’, but it does pinpoint the essential orientation. One will find this sage neither using the term mysticism much. He describes it as a practice of affirmation called ‘’Nâm’’.

My relationship with this sage, who is known by the name of Yoginâm, a man of European origin, extends over a period of three decades. While this relationship is very personal and existential, it has always been characterised by a practise of participant observation and persistent study. Throughout these series I will combine the development of transcendental anthropological viewpoints, with descriptions of the life and work of this extraordinary man, based on my fieldwork sources extending over decades. 

I will discuss anthropological theory that helps clarify greatly the potential role and relevance of the thought and presence of a sage in relation to the contemporary social-cultural world. My main source here is the work of the French anthropologist Louis Dumont, whose work I admire a lot. He has elaborated on ideological configurations of traditional holism and modern individualism, and importantly, he has evolved the concept of the ‘’outworldly individual’’.

This concept refers to a type who Dumont sees as having been conducive in shaping a holistic human environment in India, the initial area of his research. Taking this research as a basis, he returned his studies to the modern West with the aim to look at ourselves ‘’in perspective’’, that he confirmed to be the essential task of anthropology. He also identified this type of the outworldly individual in the very origins of the modern individual – that he refers to in comparison as an ‘’inworldly individual’’. He highlights how these two types of individual concern very different creatures. In this context of my research object, I would emphasise in existential terms how the modern inworldly individual carries the quality of being an atomised man living in a dualistic universe (as many observers have recognised), while the outworldly individual is a monistic man living in a holistic universe. For this reason, the type of the outworlly individual should be of special relevance to the modern West. By framing this creature as a ‘’sociological category’’, Dumont facilitates greatly a proper understanding of the phenomenon of transcendental living and our own world, and I will attempt making good use of it. 

Furthermore, in these series, I will pursue a phenomenological description of the transcendental orientation, based on what this sage Yoginam brings to expression, and the transcendental way in daily living that he illuminates. What he sees as ‘’The Red Thread’’, as being universal to humanity. I intend to illuminate the essential aspects that he suggests for the lifeworld of perception to open to awareness of a transcendental nature, and for allowing this to permeate one’s world of daily living.

This will provide an opportunity to distil from his thought a holistic methodology for the anthropological study of human perception, that is known as SIWEB. This methodology highlights multiple dimensions of human experience, the central role of habitual programs of perception, and the dynamics of causality in experience. It is an extremely potent and rich methodology for understanding human experience and behaviour. I will demonstrate a case study where this methodology is applied – a potentially intriguing case of fraudulent deceptive practices that illustrate much about dynamics of human perception. This should help lay a basis for its further use.

I intend to engage a practise of ‘’discernment’’, to show how ‘’real’’ transcendence can be recognised, and be distinguished from the surrogate – imitation, if you will. Phenomena that have the appearance of a transcendental focus but would not touch upon its essence. This is important. Dumont emphasised the need for anthropological understanding to be sensitive to different levels at play in cultural configurations, and I will focus on that here. The aim of this will not be to debunk any kind of alternative practices. But in a world where the notion of transcendence is becoming of critical importance, as it is in my view, it will be important to enable ourselves to pinpoint where in the spheres of human perception the connection with transcendence is situated, and how this would come to expression in experience. 

Along this route, it will come to pass to show consistently how the human being is by nature a transcendental being, which implies that therefore everyone incorporates a transcendental orientation in his or her life. Even while not realising it, or doing it consciously, or believing one does not do so. It should be useful to lift some of the veils in this context. 

This would include an analysis of how contemporary programs of perception in this respect are very much geared, unwittingly, to incorporating transcendentals of a materialistic nature. These often entail tales of limitation, as it appears to be the language of matter. Consequently, these tend to be patterns towards self-imposed imprisonment of the spirit. Whereas a transcendental orientation applied spiritually, is a source for the realisation of spheres in living beyond limitation – providing meaningful liberation of the spirit. These consequently provide very different inspiration and insights into the nature of living. I believe these contrasts to be of interest in the context of a transcendental anthropology. Additionally, during talks Yoginâm has shared many very alluring insights into this, which I will discuss.

In short, there are a lot of themes to cover and touch upon, and I would therefore, simply, get to it. The parts in these series are written as essays. That is, they are means of trying out perspectives, developing points of view openly while moving forward. It is in some sense a phenomenological movement. A process of constantly aiming our arrows for the essences of human phenomena being investigated, by embracing a transcendental focus. Since they are essays, I am open to feedback and discussion, that would facilitate improving and refining the discussions of the subjects being covered. This is not finished work, it is an opening to explore horizons, in the affirmation of the transcendental nature of living.

Continue here with Part I, Opening to the Other

Contact the author: leon.alexander@nam-academy.org

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