The Jaina Colossus at Shravanabelgola in Karnataka State, Southwest IndiaThe majestic aloofness of the perfected, balanced, absolutely self-contained figure of the [Jaina] saint becomes emphasized in its triumphant isolation. The image of the released one seems to be neither animate nor inanimate, but pervaded by a strange and timeless calm. It is human in shape and feature, yet as inhuman as an icicle; . . . [the saint] stands supernally motionless, absolutely unconcerned about the worshipping, jubilant crowds that throng around his feet.
--Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India
State University of New York Press, 2000
Click on title to read the article version of Chapter Six "The Yogi and the Goddess."
Click on title to read the article version of Chapter Nine "On the Deification of Confucius."
SHORT SUMMARY OF BOOK
This book is an essay in comparative philosophy using the concept of Titanism to critique certain trends in both Eastern and Western philosophy. Titanism is an extreme form of humanism in which human beings take on divine attributes and prerogatives. The most explicit forms of spiritual Titanism are found in the Jaina, Sankhya, and Yoga traditions. In these views yogis claim powers and knowledge that in the West are only attributed to God. Answers to spiritual Titanism begin with the Hindu Goddess religion, but the most constructive responses are found in Zen Buddhism and Confucianism.
LONGER ABSTRACT OF BOOK
This book is an essay in comparative philosophy using the concept of Titanism to critique certain trends in both Eastern and Western philosophy. Titanism is an extreme form of humanism in which human beings take on divine attributes and prerogatives. The most explicit forms of spiritual Titanism are found in the Jaina, Sankhya, and Yoga traditions. In these views yogis claim powers and knowledge that in the West are only attributed to God. These philosophies are also radically dualistic and liberation involves a complete transcendence of the body, society, and nature.
The author identifies five types of spiritual Titanism: (1) Asura Titanism in which the asuras (demons, antigods, or Titans) constantly battle the Hindu gods; (2) Brahmin Titanism, in which the priests take over the divine power of the sacrifice; (3) Gnostic Titanism, in which humans contend that they have perfect knowledge; (4)Yoga Titanism, in which yogis claim to have divine powers by practicing austerities; and (5) Bhakti Titanism, in which humans such as Krishna are bestowed with powers of universal redemption. In addition to this typology, the author offers a heuristic based on Nietzsche's Three Metamorphoses of camel (=premodern), lion-Titan (=modern), and child-Overman (=postmodern). The book proposes that Zen monks and Chinese sages represent the child stage, which constitutes a constructive postmodern solution to the problems of Indian Titanism.
Reaction to Indian spiritual atomism came in the form of Hindu Goddess worship and the Tantric traditions. Both of these practices brought humans back to their bodies and nature. Other constructive responses to Titanism are found in Buddhism (especially Zen), Confucianism, and Daoism. The author finds that both Buddhism and Confucianism anticipate a constructive postmodern response to modernist notions of self and world found in the Jaina-Sankhya-Yoga philosophies. This is seen most explicitly in their rejection of substances of any kind, a commitment to a social and relational view of the self, and a revalorization of nature. The Confucian sage, always expansive and integrative, is contrasted with the opposite tendencies in some Indian saints.
"The act of cross-cultural comparison, particularly in religious studies, is an art that once flourished but is now routinely challenged from a whole host of technical and specialist fronts. Giers text, essentially a comprehensive essay of normative comparative philosophy, is especially refreshing in such a world, as it effectively brings together an impressive range of scholarship (Western philosophy and theology, comparative mythology, Jaina, Hindu, Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian studies) to create a truly comparative text with a distinct, original, philosophically and religiously important thesis. Giers category of "Titanism," which functions as an ethical critique of [some Indian schools] from the standpoint of a constructive postmodern . . . standpoint, enables him to accomplish this synthetic and normative feat, and to do it in a way that does not collapse the very real differences between these traditions into a simplistic perennialism or universalism. This is one of the few books that I have read that actually makes sense of what a postmodern perspective is and how it might function. This is no mean accomplishment." Jeffrey J. Kripal, Rice University, author of the award winning Kalis Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna (University of Chicago Press).
"In this original comparative analysis of Indian, Chinese, and Western thought, Nicholas F. Gier introduces the concept of 'Spiritual Titanism,' a notion that he finds manifested in a variety of forms across cultures, and with varying implications for religious practice and philosophical reflection. 'Spiritual Titanism' is, as the back cover of the book explains, "an extreme form of humanism in which human beings take on divine attributes and prerogatives." As an interpretive tool, this concept is useful, for it allows Gier to bring out affinities between prima facie very different systems of belief and practice, from the ancient Samkhya, Yoga, and Jain traditions of India to Cartesian dualism and contemporary technophilia.
Spiritual Titanism is an ideological stance of which Gier is critical; but lest one worry that he is using this concept for polemical purposes, merely to attack or deconstruct the philosophies that he examines, one finds that he is really quite careful to point out, for example, that the effect of Jain Spiritual Titanism in practice is not so much the aggrandizement of human power, but an ethos of radical respect for all life and for the earth itself. This is in contrast, of course, with technological titanism, the destructive effects of which are tragically evident throughout our world. One might wish that Gier went further in exploring why the radical disconnect sometimes seems to obtain between the conceptual titanism of a tradition and its practical non-Titanism, and vice versa, but this also points to one of this book's virtues--it leaves the reader wanting more. (This reader would certainly like to see a sequel, applying the concept of Spiritual Titanism to the analysis of even more traditions, or expanding further upon the analyses given here.)
Gier's overall goal, apart from enhancing our understanding of Indian, Chinese, and Western philosophy, is to point out the potential dangers of Spiritual Titanism, as well as to articulate a "constructive postmodern" response, based on elements of the thought of Alfred North Whitehead, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. (The reader, by the way, should check out other works in the series of which this book is a part--SUNY Press's Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought. If you are interested in a philosophy in terms of which we can all envision a better world, as well as one that is capable of constructively and substantively engaging with a variety of religious and philosophical systems cross-culturally, then you would do well to read this book, and others in its series, edited by David Ray Griffin.)
The most impressive thing of all about this book is the fact that it covers an enormous range in terms of traditions and cultures, but also manages to sustain a substantive philosophical argument throughout. Specialists may quibble over details, as such a wide-ranging study necessarily depends upon secondary literature, and one may not agree in every respect with every one of Gier's analyses. But this book never fails to provoke thought, and rewards repeated readings as well--a rare quality for an academic volume. Of particular interest to this reader were the treatments of Jainism and Neo-Vedanta, as well as an original and intriguing interpretation of Nietzsche.
This book is a model for how the comparative philosophy of religion might proceed--clearly written, well-argued, well-researched, and, as another reviewer has said, "with a distinct, original, philosophically and religiously important thesis." This book is highly recommended for anyone who takes the ideas of comparative philosophy or world philosophy seriously." --Jeffery Long, Elizabethtown College.
"The central thesis of Spiritual Titanism: Indian, Chinese, and Western Perspectives is that certain traditions advocate ideals that require human beings to take on divine attributes and prerogatives. Gier argues that such ideals are not only impractical-its hard to be a god-but dangerous-it is harmful to try or pretend to be one. Gier explains why certain traditions have produced such visions. He also explores several traditions that have managed to avoid the error of spiritual titanism while offering difficult, though realistic and laudable spiritual ideals.
This work does a masterful job analyzing and comparing a diverse range of
traditions against the standard of a humane life. Unlike so many works of
scholarship, it has an important point to make. It displays an impressive
command of a remarkably broad range of traditions and deploys careful and
compelling arguments to support its central claims. This is a fascinating and
innovative book."--P. J. Ivanhoe, Boston University
Click here for review by Robert Wicks, University of Auckland
Click here for review by John Allen Tucker, East Carolina University