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ISSN: 0974-892X


July, 2013



J. K. Verma

Separating the Dancer from the Dance?
A Re-evaluation of Esoteric and Aesthetic Systems

You will be both astonished and amused to find that truth – the goal of science, Ultimate Reality-The goal of philosophy, and God – The goal of religion are but three names of the same Supreme essence.
His Holiness Huzur Sahabji Maharaj
(The Most Revered Fifth Spiritual Leader of The Radhasoami Faith, Dayalbagh in His Agra University Convocation Address, 1935)

Today in the second decade of the twenty-first century we live in a large and complex world perceived to be a result of a variety of human activity systems from domains such as science, technology, economics, ecology, environment, management, psychology, sociology, anthropology, geography, politics, history, mathematics, arts, literature, ethics, spirituality, etc. The paper explores how true literature is a link between the temporal and the transcendental, science and religion, a sadhna to achieve the “super sensuous truth”. The paper has three dimensions: (1) A Glimpse of basic axioms of Systems Theory, (2) An evaluation of a close bond between esoteric and aesthetic systems, (3) Possibility of Integrating the two systems through holistic theory of Paritantra.

Perhaps the most powerful activity of man which has made our world is the activity of science physical−chemical, biological which began in the sixteenth century and seventeenth centuries. The power of science lies in three R’s : Reductionism, Refutability and Repeatability. Reductionism, the most important tool of science, with all its merits , has had the ironic effect of fragmenting science into a hierarchy of separate disciplines which limits the ability of even most advanced scientific communities to solve the problems of the real world. Aristotle argued  that ‘whole was more than the sum of its parts’, but Aristotle’s picture of the world was subverted by the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century in which Newton’s physics provided a mechanical picture of the universe, scientific reductionism resulted in the fragmentation of the knowledge and disintegration of man . Of late scientists and scholars have realized that the method of science is not all powerful at the material level. In the words of Rev. Prof. P.S. Satsangi, “problems of the real world call for integrative holistic thinking which science does not provide”. (1) In the twenty-first century we witness the emergence of two paradoxical tendencies, ‘globalization’ and ‘specialization’. How apt is the statement of Radhakrishnan:

Our age is an age of specialists. Everyone knows more and more about less and less. Knowledge cannot be divided against itself. Science, humanities and religion are parts of one whole. (2)

For millennia thinkers and philosophers have believed that there is an underlying unity to all phenomena, appearances and objects in nature and creation. Albert Einstein reiterated that a human being was part of the whole. The piecemeal approach to knowledge is making us specialists but is also resulting in existential vacuum.

There is a need of ‘new ethos’ to bring about a progressive transformation of thinking, enquiry and world view. Ludwig von Bertalanffy, one of the first masterminds of systems science, advocated ‘General Systems Theory’, promoting systems consciousness and systems theory.

Opposing the reductionism of science ‘Systems Movement’ originated with Aristotelian notion of holism as its fundamental axiom.  The Systems Movement comprises any and every effort to work out the implications of using the concept of an irreducible whole, ‘a system’ in any area of endeavour. The value and limitations of the concept can be examined virtually in all of the arbitrary dimensions of the human knowledge which we presently know as separate disciplines. Systems Movement was started to unite the various splintered disciplines and thus we find Systems Thinking and Systems Concepts being used by engineers, technologists, biologists, artists, economists, managers, etc. Systems thinking and Systems Theory enable us unearth the underlying hidden connections among several disciplines. Systems Science transcends the disciplinary boundaries, seeking alikeness (isomorphs) of principles, concepts and laws that exist in the various realms of experience. The unique power of Systems Theory is that it can integrate within the frame of Systems Theory and Systems Philosophy, the findings of various disciplines. The shift began in 1930s but systems movements received impetus in 1950s due to the efforts of scholars like Ashby, Bertalanffy, Boulding, Fagan, Rev.Prof. P.S. Satsangi,  who felt the need for a unified disciplined inquiry. Central to the concept of ‘ Systems Thinking and Systems Theory’ is the concept of system. A system is a group of interacting, interrelated and interdependent components that form a complex and unified whole. Systems Thinking focuses on the interrelation of system, constituent parts and the working of a system over a time within the context of a larger system. Systems approach contrasts with traditional analysis which studies systems of all types by breaking them down into separate elements. Everything in the universe including ourselves which seems to exist independently is in fact part of an all embracing organic pattern. In the words of Peter Checkland, the noted systems scientist:

The systems approach belongs to a whole class of  approaches to managing and planning our human affairs with the interest that we as living species conduct ourselves properly in this world. It is one of the approaches based on the fundamental principle that all aspects of the human world should be tied together in grand rational scale. (3)

Knowledge is a seamless whole. Literary systems, aesthetic systems, esoteric systems, philosophical systems are interconnected. If philosophy is a vision, a new way of seeing beyond the horizon of time, religion is a personal discovery, inward transformation. If science makes metaphysical assumptions about the structure of continuity of nature, true literature instills the metaphysical urge in us to live a life in the power of Supreme Being.

Esoteric and aesthetic systems when placed within a larger systemic framework reveal that they spring from the same fundamental sources. Religion is the relation which man bears to Ultimate Being. It is concerned with the substance which is behind the phenomena and also with the duty which man owes to the Being, Universal and Eternal. Both esoteric and aesthetic systems make a constant appeal to  life. They assume presence and orderly use of the reason. They accept the strength of the human emotions of love, fear, curiosity, reverence and they both presume and accept the importance of conscience. The great themes of esoteric and literary systems are similar and vital; for instance, sin, its origin, penalties, and deliverance from it, love,  passion, will, its place and its limitations, righteousness, the relation of man to man. As supportive illustration, we may refer to Dante’s Divine Comedy which, is a literary system but is no less than an esoteric system.

In the Indian tradition the word kavi and  rishi are almost the same. The rishi is one who sees, and reads what already is there. Vedas were written by sages. They were all rishis who wrote Vedas. Rishi means the seer, the sage implies the wisdom. Ancient Indian sages like Valmiki and Vysa by their incessant sadhna and ceaseless tapasya (self-control, austerity and suffering) became capable of seeing the finest specimens of archetypes of human agony and the super human power of endurance in their epics the Ramayana and  the Mahabharata.

All art visualizes the union of microcosm with macrocosm, intense longing of the soul to become one with the Supreme Father, but unfortunately today literary study is passing through a state of intellectual confusion and spiritual prostration. It is riddled with fashions and biased by ideological endeavours of all kinds. Literary systems are universal aesthetic systems which are deeply related to other systems such as scientific systems, esoteric, historical, psychological systems. Post-modern literary theorists are trying to explore literary systems from multiple perspectives yet unfortunately they are not able to transcend the artificial disciplinary boundaries. Once we apply transdisciplinary concepts of systems science, we realize how esoteric systems provide literature vast and rich materials. The sacred esoteric systems themselves constitute great literatures and also furnish materials for great literature. The Bhagavadgita is both a literary system and an esoteric system. It is known for its melody and magic of phrase, intensity of utterance, the vision of the seer. The Gita presents truth which is eternal and belongs to the very flesh of humanity, past, present and future. The translation of the Bible into gothic not only preserved the Bible, but also helped to create and to perpetuate literature. Luther’s translation of the Bible and the king James’s version are not only themselves great literatures but also have helped to create great literary systems in the modern times. Both esoteric and aesthetic systems stand for the value and the quality of imagination. They represent the artistic method of interpreting life and phenomena. For instance the Bible as a system is a unique amalgamation of various sub- systems such as literary, religious and historical. Biblical System is an interpretive portrayal of human experience in an artistic form. The Homeric poems are pervaded with the religious atmosphere of wonder, of obedience to the Eternal. A significant place is held by religion in Greek tragedies too.
Today we are at cross- roads, and our perception of knowledge and education requires a paradigm shift from fragmented thinking to holistic systems thinking. Plato rightly believed that education consists in perfecting the whole person to achieve self-realization.

By using Systems Approach the interpretation of literary and esoteric systems can be done at various levels. Such holistic Systemic view will promote inter- disciplinarity, universality and also inter- textuality. T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, when considered as a literary system has to be viewed within a larger civilizational system and the interaction of various sub- systems such as religious, social, psychological, economic, and cultural, which cannot be perceived through Marxist , Kantian or Formalist approaches.

The Systems Approach will bring into light the anti-thesis and synthesis between subjective-objective, emotional-intellectual, intuition-reason, knowledge- experience,  physical- spiritual on which aesthetic systems and to a great extent esoteric systems are created. The systems concept of multifinality or divergence is very much useful as aesthetic and esoteric systems. They are open systems which are non-linear, dynamic, teleological, interdependent, complex and never lose their relevance.

In recent times various schools of Systems Theoretical Thoughts have received prominence. Interpretive Structural Modeling, Nominal Group Technique, Soft System Methodology, Generalized Physical System Theory, Graph Theoretic Field Modeling, etc. are all meta-disciplinary concepts.

A Systems World View will allow us to perceive the intermingling of aesthetic and esoteric systems. An aesthetic system is a sadhana (devotion) and an artist is a sadhaka (devotee) who transforms the physical experience into metaphysical quest, into spiritual awareness. According to Sri Aurobindo,

It is spiritually when you begin to become aware of another consciousness than the ego and begin to live in it or under its influence more and more. It is that consciousness, pure of ego, etc., which is called spirit (self, Brahman, divine). (4)

Once, this state of omniscience is achieved, the creator of an aesthetic system becomes a seer. All creation is an act of worship and true aesthetic systems do not separate what Tagore calls ‘buds’ from the ‘blossom’.
The world today has become an interdependent global community with the mingling of cultures. Our task is not to displace one way of life with another but to share the treasure, of which, each is the guardian. We should move towards ‘universal knowledge’ with the systems view of universe and systems view of ‘man’ as a ‘complete man’. To conclude one must join with W.B.Yeats:

Oh chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance!
How can we know the dancer from the dance? (5)


  1. P.S. Satsangi, “Linear graph Theoretic General Systems Paradigm- A Learning Systems Modeling Methodology”. Literary Paritantra (Systems): An International Journal on Literature And Theory. (Vol. Nos 1&2 Basant  (Spring), 2009) p.3
  2. S. Radhakrishanan, “Science and Religion” Religion and Culture. (Orient Paperbacks: New Delhi) p.154.
  3. Peter Chekland, “Science and Systems Movement”, Systems Thinking and Systems Practice.(John Wiley and Sons Ltd.: New York, 1999) p.75
  4. Sri Aurobindo, Letters on YogaVol. 23. Part II, (Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondichery, 1972) p.877
  5. W.B. Yeats “Among School Children”, An Anthology of Selected Poems, ed. By Carl bode, Leon Howard and Louis B. Wright. (Oxford University Press) p. 69