How Philosophers understand Heaven?

Reading Wittgenstein on the Blessed Life

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

For Wittgenstein the metaphysical self that constitutes ustranscends the world, the urges that move us point beyond the world,experiences that we most cherish are of the world beyond the ordinarilyfamiliar world, our ethical and aesthetic dimension is anchored outside theworld. For him both the willing subjects and the knowing subjects are one andboth are outside of the world, and are the source of our language andworld-cognition. Wittgenstein's statement that 'God is the meaning of life' isquintessentially mystical and best understood in light of mystical writings.Underhill's explication of the meaning of life in mysticism is best commentaryon this statement. One can't be more God intoxicated to equate the mostsignificant thing in life with God.

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

"How things stand is God." "Everything is perfect" and "…mywill is world will." All these statement of Wittgenstein imply a deepconviction about unity and realizing that everything is perfect this verymoment or this earth is draped in heaven, in Buddhist (Nagarjunian)terminology, that samsara is nirvana. Wittgenstein's transcendence of good/evilbinary and pleading for a vision of perfect harmony between the self and the"alien will" called God and seeing everything as unalterably perfect makes thesame point.

If mystics are those who know heaven first hand we  find Wittgenstein in their camp. All his workwas dedicated to the "glory of God" as he once said to his friend Dury. It isin this light that we can understand his unconventional attitude towards secular carriers or vocations, hisrenunciation of his property, his austerity in life and manners, his casualattitude towards dress, his independence in thought and action, his nostalgiafor peasant life in Russia, his alienation from his times that he characterizedas dark ages and many puzzles in his biography.

In 1939 Wittgenstein said,

"The fat that life is problematic shows the shape of yourlife 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'texperience the problem as sorrow, so for him it will not be a problem but a joyrather; in other words for him it will be a bright halo around his life, not adubious background."

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

'Ethics,' Wittgenstein says, has nothing to do withpunishment and reward in the ordinary sense and he adds that "the ethicalconsequences must lie in the action itself. If we assume that it is a person'sactions and the way those actions are performed that create a life, then theethical desert of those actions is simply that life itself, and since life andthe world are said to be one, the ethical reward is nothing else but the factwith which the world looks back at you. To complete the account let us rememberthat the face that looks back at our is your own: it is tempting to speculatethat your ethical reward is no more nor no less than the discovery of your owncharacter." From Lao Tzu to Ibn Arabi and Eckhart mystical ethics and itseschatological significance has been almost similarly understood. For mysticslike Ibn Arabi people choose their stations in the other world. God onlyunveils their reality. People judge themselves in the light of the Absolute.Choosing to live inside the cocoon of limiting self amounts to obstructingDivine Mercy or choosing separation from the Real. Prayer establishes thedialogue between the self and the Other to make life a benediction or unfoldits heavenly drape. Refusing to pray – which is, for Ibn Arabi, simplygratitude to Existence for the gift of life – amounts to condemning oneself toself referring and self enclosed windowless subjective space.

Wittgenstein's 1929 'A Lecture on Ethics' has a remark: Ibelieve the best way of describing [this feeling] is to say that when I have itI wonder at the existence of the world. And I am then inclined to use suchphrases as 'how extraordinary that anything should exist' or 'how extraordinarythat the world should exist.' Now in order to make the world a Garden, wonderis the key. In fact every therapy for enchantment of the world involves poetryof 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 postmortem 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 lifeand that he links with transcendence of desiring or willing self. His problemis ethical and existential and his proposed solution too is on these planesthat have little to do with language or representation business. His solutioninvolves contemplating, looking, wondering, loving rather than thinking or questioning. His object (ethical/aesthetical/religious ormystical) is not in the world, is untouched by scientific discoveries or anyspeculative exercise. His concern is metaphysical and metaphysical is what hecalls mysterious, mystical, outside the world, supernatural. He was interestedin speaking without words — "conveying thoughts by themselves without words."He thought, with Goethe, that we need to learn from contemplation ofuntrammelled nature rather than laboratory experiment and hypothesis thatdistort the truth. Like Heidegger he found the richness of being to which poetsrather than philosophers point out the key to salvation

Wittgenstein saw religions as "essentially grammars ofwonder, and so as holding out the promise of sustaining an openness towonder."  Religions were "systems ofcoordinates" for giving "direction to a life fundamentally characterized aboveall by reverence, which Wittgenstein felt was the highest kind of human life tolead." Janik and Toulmin note that "the primary concern of the author of the Tractatusis to protect the sphere of the conduct of life against the encroachments fromthe sphere of speculation." And: "His world-view expresses the belief that thesphere of what can only be shown must be protected from those who try to say it."

Thus Wittgenstein immunizes readers against corrosiveeffects of thought movements that avoid or fight God/Other. He gives religion aground 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 towardsthe Good that makes it worth living and in a sense unceasing heavenly rewardthat nothing including death can strip away.

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