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Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale"

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University of Naples "L'Orientale"
Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale"
M Ripa.gif
Latin: Institutum Orientalis Neapolitanum
RectorProf.ssa Elda Morlicchio
Students10,293 (2010/2011)
LocationNaples, Italy
Sports teamsCUS Napoli

The Naples Eastern University, or University of Naples "L'Orientale" (Italian: Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale"), is a university located in Naples, Italy. It was founded in 1732 and is organized in 4 Faculties. It is the oldest school of Sinology and Oriental Studies of the European continent and the main university in Italy specialized in the study of non-European languages and cultures, with research and studies agreements with universities from all over the world. It is one of the most prestigious universities in the world regarding Asian cultures and languages.

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Interviews about human nature. Hi Mauro, thank you for your time Thank you Let’s start with a brief introduction for the ones who aren’t familiar with you You are a professor of Indian Religions and Philosophies at the University of Naples “L’Orientale” and a member of the Italian Centre for Analytical Psychology You’ve published articles and essays on the meditative processes of ancient Buddhism the psychology of mysticism, religious symbolism, the meeting of the religious East with the contemporary West, and the intercultural dialogue between Eastern sapiential psychologies and Western psychology Since the 1970s, you’ve been studying the meditative paths of several Eastern traditions with a spirit free from dogmas and confessional subscriptions, eventually coming to a radical nondualism It’s been very important when you first met the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj, Krishnamurti, Tony Parsons, and for several years you’ve been leading groups of being sharing, or satsang, in Rome and Bologna. So here’s my first question: what’s the common thread, the question, the vocation that has led you from the study of Indian religions and philosophies, the practice of meditation and inner research, to analytical psychology? To put it very simply… mystery. When I think of my childhood and ask myself which were the moments when I felt some kind of sacred awe, in my case it wasn’t when I went to church for Sunday’s mass and all that, it was about situations of contact with nature It was, for instance, the starry night sky, especially in those summer nights permeated with their unique scent Or the storms with thunder and lightning, those powerful energy discharges which I really enjoyed watching from my window, without any fear Looking to the starry sky, I felt an infinite vastness that was mirroring something infinite on the other side, inside or behind me, as if I were a glass between those two infinities For me mystery was not really something I wanted to solve Well, at some point I thought I would grow up to be a scientist, but I never thought one day I would have said, “Okay, now I’ve solved everything, everything is clear” , because that wasn’t the point The point is that mystery has something infinite about it. It’s like going to another continent and realizing that in all your life you won’t be able to see the whole of it. So there’s this vastness Yes, I think this was the chief point. As a child, I first wanted to become an astronaut, because you fly into the outer space Then I wanted to become a scientist who watches the starry sky through a telescope from the top of a mountain or investigates the subatomic particles, because there, too, lies an unknown abyss Then philosophy, and later on the encounter with Jung. That happened rather early on, in high school Jung is interesting because he never wanted to build a closed system to describe the psyche. Programmatically, Jung has always caught only some essential aspects of the psyche, without trying to provide an exhaustive picture of it precisely because in his view mind is too rich, too deep and unfathomable to be enclosed in any possible description In Memories, Dreams, Reflections he says that his whole body of work (and that’s quite a lot of volumes) is only like the water drawn from a river with a hat: yet the rest of the river is still there to be explored Therefore this is what matters in Jung, this way of delving deep and discovering so much, yet always knowing that it’s not the whole of it From there meditation came as a way to investigate the mind, and so on Mystery is an interesting word indeed, because it comes from the Indo-European root mu- which means ‘to close’, ‘to shut’, and most often ‘to close one’s mouth’, that is hushing Indeed, the Greek word myo means hushing, shutting, and from it comes mystérion. Greek mysteries were something the initiate should not speak of, he should not reveal the initiation rites But the word mystic too comes from the same root, and of course the word mute The root is just the same, as the mystic is left speechless (mute) before mystery, and in that silence an unfathomable aliveness opens up From this point of view, it’s worth remarking that mystery is different from a problem This is explained clearly in one of Stephen Bachelor’s texts, where he says that a problem is something that stands before you and has got to be solved, because you feel uneasy with it So you apply a technique to that object from the outside, and once the problem is solved, it vanishes Mystery is different, because the one who tries to investigate the mystery is actually a part of it. Mystery isn’t just something objective that stands before you: you’re a part of the mystery yourself, and so it clearly can’t be solved, it can only be experienced With the difference, however, that the deeper you dive into it, the richer is the feeling of fulfilment, whereas when you can’t solve a problem, you feel a kind of incompleteness Mystery is a fullness that has no end Let’s move to the second question. What’s the specificity of the nondualistic approach compared to other paths of inner research, and – here’s another brief question – is it true that nondualism often represents an arrival point after you’ve been trying to work on yourself for some years? Nondualism, as the word itself says, is an -ism, therefore it can be compared to many other approaches that try to describe reality So nondualism is one out of many possible ideologies. Since it’s expressed by words and thoughts, it can’t really grasp the essence of reality Thoughts and words are a part of reality, they pour from the source, thus they can’t lead back to the source What is there can’t be described by any -ism, including nondualism There’s an ideological use of nondualism that is not different from the ideological use of any other system of thought that tries to describe reality Yet what I call ‘radical nondualism’ has something special about it, compared to the others, because it contains the seeds of its own destruction It’s something like a ladder you use – once it’s used, it is discarded and left over. So nondualism is a way of pointing, indeed Think about the metaphor of the finger pointing at the moon. If you keep looking at the finger, you can’t see the moon. You only see the finger, and quite easily, when they say “That’s the moon!” you come to believe that the moon is the finger. If you want to look at the moon, you have to forget the finger, and go beyond it . In this sense, nondualism can be like a finger that disappears while you’re looking at it However, this still conveys the idea that nondualism is a path to follow, that may eventually disappear, in order to reach a certain goal. But the central aspect of nondualism is that there is no path, no traveller to follow it, and no destination, because everything is already here Actually, from this point of view, nondualism is like saying: “Everything’s already here, there’s no path, no traveller, no goal to be reached” Nondualism means ‘not two’, which is why many people often mistake nondualism for monism To put it simply, it’s only a word that suggests that there are in reality infinite differences, but no actual separation Apparently, we perceive an infinite amount of differences, a multiplicity of forms, colours, sounds, feelings and so on But none of these can be really separated from all the others. This is an important aspect conveyed by the word nondualism For contemporary science the Universe is actually a single process. It can be studied as a large number of interconnected processes, but they can’t really be separated, can they? Take a flower, for instance. It can’t be separated from the water that, once absorbed, becomes a flower: the water, in turn, can’t be separated from the cloud, which can’t be separated from the sea and the sun, and so on Things are names we give to different aspects of a single process. This is what mystics say and what science says, in a sense, if we investigate it in depth The non-separation of things is one aspect, another is the difference between non-dualism and monism Sometimes nondualism speaks in a monistic language, doesn’t it? It speaks about the one Yet monism affirms the one and negates the two, it affirms unity and negates multiplicity But nondualism as I see it doesn’t leave out anything at all. It encompasses everything, the one and the two, the being and the becoming, peace and war, pleasure and pain. That’s what ‘not two’ means So, from this point of view. nondualism is not a system of thought, it’s a mere word that points at something standing before everyone’s eyes, something that, however, goes often unnoticed And by emphasizing the fact that nothing is separated, it underscores the fact that everything is already here Say, if you’re looking for God, since God is omnipresent, where could He/She be but here? If you’re looking for the Whole, since the Whole is the totality of things, then it must include ‘here’ and ‘me’ as well Otherwise, I would be – as I often say – the only loser left out of the Whole, which in turn wouldn’t be the whole at all, but only the ‘almost-whole-except-me’ So, if the Whole is really the totality of things, it must be here. If I’m looking for my true self, where should I find it but here where I am? You might not see it clearly you might not be able to understand what it is, but one thing’s for sure – it must be already here So, thus said… it’s rather ludicrous when someone claims he can teach you the way to become what you already are How many steps should I take to arrive here? How long will it take to reach the present? How hard should I struggle to become myself? Well, this aspect cuts off all the alleged masters who say, “I have reached something, if you want to reach it too, then do what I say,” because it’s quite like trying to teach waves how to become water That’s nonsense to me And since non-separation implies that the self isn’t separated from the Whole, it also implies that, while in the perspective of our selves it’s us who apparently decide what to do from another point of view things happen spontaneously, by themselves, including our decisions: and this gives us a great feeling of lightness and freedom So I don’t see nondualism as a way of reaching a far away goal, but simply as a word that indicates a fact, a fact that can sometimes be seen, but often goes unnoticed When things are seen like this, a great sense of freedom, fulfilment and completeness arises, that we sometimes call ‘happiness’ Usually, all of us are projected into the outside world, into daily life, to follow chances and solve problems, and we underrate our role in interpreting reality, in crafting reality How can it be demonstrated that operating an introversion, moving a curious look toward our inner selves, is not only essential to know who we are but is also – however hard, however frightening – a precondition to live our lives fully? Unfortunately, we live in a peculiar time, where people look always outside and don’t look inside Alan Watts said mankind doesn’t split into philosophers and non-philosophers, but into good and bad philosophers What he meant is that actually non- philosophers don’t exist, because in order to live, in order to make any choice in life you have to make out an idea of what is real and what is not, what matters more or less, and who you are Without this, you couldn’t make any choice You can decide whether to betray a friend, to oust him in order to get a promotion, or not So, if you decide to betray your friend to get a promotion, it means that according to your outlook of reality career matters more than friendship On the contrary, friendship may come in a different order. But there has to be an order to make any choice in life. Therefore, we can’t make a move if we don’t have an idea of what reality is. And so what’s the difference between good and bad philosophers? Good philosophers know they have an outlook of reality, a description of reality. They know it’s a description and not the actual reality So, just like an imperfect map may require a few adjustments when tested with the actual territory a good philosopher knows that his outlook of reality is a description, that this description isn’t complete and that it can be enhanced, adjusted or even changed Whereas a bad philosopher is one who has been unconsciously absorbing this description since childhood from society, mass media, parents, teachers, and so on - the so called ‘regime of the experts’: namely, those authorities whom the sociologist Bellah called ‘the policemen of reality’ - university professors, journalists, scientists - who tell you what is real and what is not At this point the ‘bad philosophers’ don’t know they have a description. It’s like forgetting you’ve been put a pair of glasses on your nose. You can’t see them, because you see everything through the glasses, and so everything will be coloured by those glasses, because you have forgotten having them on. In this way, you won’t think you have a description of reality You will think reality corresponds exactly to what you’ve been unconsciously describing within yourself. This causes a lot of suffering, until it happens that you’re able to remove your glasses and see what they are like. Then you can examine that description, and modify it In this regard, we can note that in the West the common man – well, not only in the West, because our technology has been exported everywhere – is subjected to a description of reality that affirms the supremacy of quantity over quality. As science has been giving us great things since its birth, we have developed a blind faith in it, a sort of ‘religion of science’ But in our religion of science, we have become obscurantists in regard to science itself, whose methods are rigorous and excellent The scientific method is based on measures, that is on translating what is observed into numbers, in order to express natural laws through precise mathematical formulas So the scientist measures reality, and translates, for instance, a distance into kilometres, a duration into time, then he relates them through a mathematical formula and finds speed, and so on This is quantity, measure. Science just tell us, in a rigorous way, that it can only study what can be measured, while what can’t be measured can’t be studied by it The religion of science of Western average man, instead, says that what can’t be measured and quantified doesn’t exist or doesn’t count. Therefore, all the so called qualia in philosophical terms, namely all the things that make life worth living – dignity, solidarity, love, beauty, and so on– since they can’t be measured, they don’t exist or are worthless and have to be removed from the harsh reality Whereas what is quantifiable is real, and so we have come to the foolish notion that something like finance - that doesn’t exist in nature - since it is only made of numbers and thus looks precisely quantifiable, has become so real that it cal rule the destinies of entire populations of human beings in flesh and blood Finance is only a belief that is shared among the minds of men - namely an object of collective faith - but, since it’s made of numbers, we regard it as maximally real So, back to your question, enquiring into our implicit philosophies is a first instance of what looking inside instead of looking outside means When we look outside, we look through a pair of glasses, while looking inside is looking at those glasses, isn’t it? Now I’d like to move to a deeper meaning of looking inside...Our description of reality is obviously influenced by our personal stories, our minds, the conditionings we have been given, at many different levels. The unconscious aspects can be examined through psychotherapy, then we have our worldviews, as we’ve said, and so on An investigation of all this is very important. However, from a certain point of view, I could say that this sort of looking in is actually looking out with respect to what we really are I mean, looking out usually means looking what our senses are conveying to us, it means observing our perceptions – sounds, smells, colours, tastes, and tactile sensations – of what is outside And the relationship we have with all this is dualistic, it’s me as a subject observing external objects. If they aren’t objects, I just can’t observe them, of course So the observation process itself produces what I consider an illusory, however vivid, duality between a subject and an object Therefore I – or you can call it ‘consciousness’ – observe external objects that are sounds, smells, colours, tastes, and so on. Let’s call them perceptions As a subject, I observe all the perceptions I call ‘the world’, but also, at the same time and in the same way, I observe the physical sensations I call ‘body’ These too are ‘outside’ me, for I observe them as objects. Now, what do we usually mean when we talk about ‘looking inside’? Observing our thoughts, our memories, our emotions, our conceptual structures… but if we’re observing them, there are always I and my thoughts, passing in front of me From my perspective they are ‘outside’ too, it’s just that these objects are different from sensory perceptions When we talk about “in” and “out”, we usually mean in and out this bag of skin we call ‘body’, so we say thoughts are inside, while things are outside But actually, from the perspective of the description in terms of subject/object, there are perceptions, physical sensations or thoughts that are objects presenting themselves as outside what’s observing them, namely the consciousness In certain meditation contexts such as Chan Buddhism or Vedanta, there’s the expression “to turn the light inwards.” That means trying to make a 180° turn of your attention (which is always projected on an object, be it a perception, a sensation, or a thought) in order to look at its very source . That’s a quite different way of looking inside Sure It’s an attempt to go back to the very source of my gaze. Of course, you won’t see anything at all, because the eye can’t see itself. It sees everything, except itself Shankara said a sword can’t cut itself, nor fire burn itself. You can’t pick yourself up by the collar of your own coat So, if I try to turn my attention of 180° and look into its own source, I can’t see anything But what happens when you do that, and it happens quite often, is that you may feel something like a vertigo, like a sort of freefall into mystery, because that attempt to see the source isn’t seeing anymore It’s rather a way of suspending the objective seeing, which is replaced by this kind of freefall into utter mystery, into the Unknown and that’s something crucial to recognize what is there. It isn’t seeing anymore. It’s something else, which is intensely alive This can be found in Chan Buddhism, when it speaks about turning the light inwards, but it can also be found in Christian mysticism There’s a whole tradition about it. For example, Saint Gregory of Nyssa says that to see God is not to see at all And the English mystic text entitled The Cloud of Unknowing says that God is surrounded by a cloud of ‘not knowing’ So, if you want to know God, you have to enter that cloud of unknowing. Another way of calling it is Eckhart’s Vergessenheit, forgetfulness. You have to forget all what you know Krishnamurti talks about ‘freedom from the known’. Nisargadatta describes it as a plunge into the Unknown. It’s something you won’t be able to know, but at the same time it’s extremely vital. When working on oneself, psychological distress, on which Western psychotherapy has developed many models, maps, and techniques in a constant evolution, can often be mistaken for existential distress, that we could relate with the famous dukkha of the Buddha Well, how is it possible to find the right balance to, on one hand, prevent man from reducing himself to the sole practices and models born of psychotherapy, a thing too limited for the mystery we represent, and, on the other, prevent the risk of spiritual reductionism that could lead for example to a spiritual bypass? Psychological distress is different from existential distress, because it’s personal, concerning exclusively a specific individual In other words, if you suffer from depression, it doesn’t mean everybody else suffers from depression. Someone may suffer from an obsessive-compulsive neurosis, someone not. Everybody has his own specific psychological pathology. But the existential suffering always affects all humankind, in every single moment. I think it basically involves two essential aspects. The first one, as existentialist philosophers say, is the awareness of our being-toward-death. In other words, we as human beings have unavoidable limits, and therefore in our lives we can never escape sickness and death, and sometimes the decrepitude of old age too So, be it easy or hard, happy or unhappy , in any case “life is a sexually transmitted disease whose prognosis is always poor”, as someone said Winston Churchill too is reported to have remarked that life is a wonderful adventure we won’t survive. Freud said that once you’ve recovered from a psychopathology thanks to a proper psychoanalysis, you move from neurotic suffering to normal suffering Why? Because he believed that normal suffering - the one human beings feel because, as living organisms, they are exposed to cold, hot, wars, deprivations, mourning, sickness, old age and death - is something you can’t cure the same way you cure a mental illness, you just have to accept it The idea of many ‘spiritual’ approaches, instead, is that all that requires some inner work, because there are some analogies with psychological suffering, after all For example, psychological suffering essentially arises out of a repression, at least if we accept the psychodynamic perspective. In other words, the danger of our psychic conflicts is greatly increased by the fact we aren’t aware of them The fact we are unaware makes them invisible to us, and so they can control us like puppets Consequently, we become prey to emotional reactions and compulsive actions whose drives and motivations are hidden to us and often highly destructive, both for us and the ones around us So there’s this repression of a conflict, of a desire, or whatever, that influences us from the unconscious area, precisely because we can’t see it. On another context that isn’t psychodynamic, Nisargadatta says you can be free only from what you know, while what you don’t know conditions you from behind your shoulders. For example, according to Indian soteriologies, the main hindrance is often called avidyā. Avidyā is a word that comes from the privative prefix a- and the Indo-European root weid-, meaning ‘to know/to see’ Indeed, from the same root comes the Latin video, ‘to see’. So vidyā is knowledge in the sense of direct seeing, let’s say a first-hand knowledge, instead of a knowledge by proxy. Avidyā is often translated with ‘ignorance’, but this term easily suggests the idea of being unlearned, of a lack of culture, while actually, avidyā means ‘unawareness’, ‘not to see things as they are’, so that you can easily stumble, just because you can’t see Something similar happens on the existential level too: though we actually know that, since we were born, we will certainly die, nevertheless we try to repress this recognition. There’s one more element of existential distress that I’ve forgotten to mention, that is the realization that, since all our experiences in life are conditioned - produced by causes and conditions - , sooner or later they will end There’s no single experience I can gain or produce that will last forever. Sooner or later, precisely because it has been produced, it will end. It’s a universal law, without any exception: what you can reach, for the very fact that you can reach it, sooner or later will be lost Sure Whatever you might accumulate or gather sooner or later will be scattered, drained This makes us aware that nothing we can achieve, no experience we can reach in this life can actually give us that full happiness we’re looking for With happiness I don’t mean pleasure. Pleasure may be more or less intense, it may come in a higher or lower degree With happiness I mean that feeling of completeness and fulfilment that arises when we feel we don’t need anything else We happen to feel it in our lives sometimes, don’t we? Thus happiness is when we say, “Now I’m alright! There’s nothing else I need now, it’s all complete” There’s no higher or lower degree of happiness: either you’re happy or not. If you’re just a tiny step from that completeness, you can feel a great pleasure, but you aren’t happy. Sometimes we happen to feel this happiness in our lives, therefore we are familiar with the taste of completeness And so we’d like to achieve it forever, but we also know we can’t reach anything but experiences, and just because they can be reached, sooner or later they will end, without giving me that happiness All these aspects - the awareness that no experience can give me the completeness I’m looking for, as well as the awareness that I’m a human being destined to get sick and die – are the existential features that we repress We avoid them through a sort of ‘distraction’, namely the alienation from our being-toward-death by continuously involving us with trivial everyday business such as making it through the month, or meeting that person because I know it might be useful, and so on We are distracted by all these things in order to forget something much more distressing, that is our being-toward-death In a sutra of Mahayana Buddhism we’re all likened to children playing with their puppets, who are so absorbed in their game that they don’t notice their house is burning down, which is very dangerous The paths to salvation often emphasise the importance of waking up from this repression. So psychological and existential repressions are similar to this respect, though what they try to avoid is different. Sure Feeling the relevance of our existential condition leads to solidarity and to a deeper communication with our fellows, because, unlike all personal psychological conflicts, it concerns all of us, good ones and bad ones, old ones and young ones – all of us. Therefore, sharing this implies not only feeling it within you, but it’s like seeing a connection with the rest of mankind, and that’s important… And this, if I’m correct, Mauro, allows us to understand the relationship between what can partly be a repression of a different nature, that concerns the psychological distress and a repression that concerns the existential distress and the need not to resort to a notion of humanity that is just taken from psychoanalysis or other psychotherapies As to the second risk I’ve mentioned in my question, the risk run by people connected to a spiritual, soteriologic, or sapiential condition, who think all those practices and models might solve everything, as if putting on their heads the hat of the psychotherapist, running the risk of a spiritual bypass… These problems are unfortunately rather widespread. If you have some developmental psychological problems, they belong to your specific situation. I mean, let’s take a typical situation Say, a 40-year-old man that has some unsteady jobs, lives at his mother’s, hasn’t got a stable partner – but he practices meditation. Then for him practising meditation could easily become a convenient way to avoid and compensate his unresolved life problems. In other words, you don’t have a partner, you don’t have a house, you don’t have a job, but hey, you’re great at meditating Or you say “I’ll leave it all and go to the ashram”… no way! What are you leaving, if you have nothing to leave - no house, no job, no partner? If so, it’s clear that, as soon as you join the ashram, you’ll replay there all your dependency patterns. This is exactly what spiritual bypass is all about: you resort to spirituality as a shortcut to avoid the real developmental challenges you should face. In the Bhagavadgītā the main character, Arjuna, a brave warrior who’s not afraid to fight, has to face the following situation The fight is upright, since he has to protect those who deserve it, but on the other side there are some friends of him, some relatives, and even his guru. Therefore he hesitates, since as a warrior his duty is to fight on the right side like our Medieval knights, but at the same time a higher moral law forbids killing. So he’s tempted not to fight His charioteer Krishna, actually an incarnation of Vishnu, replies that each man has to fight his own battle from the place where he stands Arjuna isn’t yet a sannyāsa, so he can’t practice nonviolence for the time being: since he is a warrior, fighting is his duty. The moment you accept to fight your own battle – any battle in life, of course – then you’re in step with your developmental goal, and so you can evolve. On the contrary, if you pretend to be superior, then you’d be resorting to spirituality as a kind of excuse to avoid doing what you should realize in your life. Then we might say that, from a certain point of view, it’s essential that, even in a spiritual, existential path, you work on your own neuroses, your own complexes, on the sides of yourself you can’t accept or see and more often than not, the more you can resolve those sides, the more opportunities open on the transpersonal level too Absolutely. I’d say the problem is always the same : the ego. Psychotherapies and psychoanalysis are skilful instruments to carry out a clinical work. For example, psychoanalysis has developed an ability to decode unconscious messages that is completely unknown in the East So they have a specific area of expertise that is extremely effective, from a clinical point of view, to solve psychopathologies At the same time, meditation practices have developed a whole range of techniques to access higher states of consciousness which, for example allow the mind to purify itself, to see things more clearly, to increase your sensitivity as regards your relationship with life situations, other people and yourself as well Now, what’s the problem? Ego, of course. On one hand, some representatives of psychotherapy want to give their approaches a status of ‘spiritual initiation path’ that doesn’t belong to them because they are not equipped with the proper instruments. In my opinion, this wrong attitude is due to the fact that they don’t fully realise the value of their own clinical instruments and use them superficially On the other hand, in the spiritual field, some unconscious narcissistic mechanisms are highly aroused, in the sense that whenever one seeks the Absolute, he obviously invests spiritual paths and gurus with every conceivable perfection through the process that psychoanalysis calls ‘idealisation’ So when there’s a guru who’s idealising meditation, he might regard it as a universal panacea, so that you don’t need psychotherapy – just go on practicing meditation and if you happen to find liberation, it will surely heal all your conflicts. As I often say, it’s a nice story, but stories don’t necessarily have to be true in order to be nice, and this is the case Here’s a very simple metaphor: if you take into consideration a toothbrush and a violin, you realise the two things are extremely different. A toothbrush is a very poor and simple thing, with a single use - or maybe two or three other than brushing teeth, but not too many Whereas a violin allows you to express an incredible variety of wonderful music, to develop a skilful mind-body coordination, to explore your creativity and to build up a magnificent cathedral of sounds But let me just say, try to brush your teeth with a violin and you’ll see you need a toothbrush. Well, the point is that each instrument has its own end and purpose, but this is often forgotten when ego prevails. One last thing Somebody who is going into a serious depression might say, ”Why should I get out of bed, if we’re all destined to die?”. This may give the impression he’s talking about his existential situation Of course the existential situation is there, for it concerns each one of us, including him, but here the existential distress is exploited by his own personal pathology So how can you establish whether a certain distress is directly connected to mankind’s existential predicament, or it’s exploited as a symptom of a personal psychological pathology? Here the crucial criterion is to discern how much ‘ego’ is involved, namely seeing to which extent my distress is taking place exclusively inside me, isolating me from the others, or to which extent it makes me feel closer to all human beings Then again, when I say, “Damn, everybody has to die!”, if I live it as a problem that’s mine only, so that I feel still farther apart from the others, then this faint touch of existential suffering, in a way, is recycled in a personal psychological sphere On the other hand, if I feel that I am sharing this condition with everybody around me, including the animals or the trees that lose their leaves in autumn, if I feel connected with all that, then it’s a sheer existential demand that has been purified from the most subjective aspects That’s beautiful, really beautiful. Three more questions Now, do you still see any point in carrying on the idea of perennial philosophy, of a common denominator, in the main sapiential traditions? If so, why? What hypothesis can we make about this universal nucleus of wisdom? Does your question concern the academic research, or the spiritual field? From the point of view of the accademic studies on the psychology of mysticism, the proper point of view of perennial philosophy has been greatly scaled by constructivism because perennial scholars were often affected by a rather naïve attitude, in the sense that they were looking for passages, say, of texts belonging to Buddhism, Taoism, Christianty, and so on which were often translated so as to look even more similar, and then they said, “Look here! They say just the same thing”, without taking into account the different historical and cultural contexts of those statements Diametrically opposite was the stand of constructivists. The most radical ones of them said you couldn’t compare, for instance, a Buddhist text with a Christian one, because their contexts are completely different. And yet, in my opinion, some convergences among different mystical traditions are undeniable. So I think there has to be some good sense about that in the academic field Actually, even after a full and accurate recognition of all the specific differences that characterize the variety of mystical traditions, there is a convergence on certain structuring mystic forms of the human experience, that are constant. Which forms? Well, for example the mystic experience is often defined as an experience of unity, as a transpersonal state of consciousness beyond the separate self, as an ineffable experience that nevertheless is permeated by a cognizant quality So, in the so-called scientific or academic study of these subjects, you have to be rigorous, but you also have to keep in mind that you’re not studying mathematics, and therefore, to some extent, you have to use your good sense Of course, each human being is different, but all human beings are provided with two hands, two legs, and one head. Just as that five-protuberances pattern, , there are probably some constants in the human experience too, otherwise a science such as psychology would be impossible. And could this be the starting point for a constructive dialogue among the several traditions, a dialogue that instead of lessening the richness of difference, may see what ties us together in such dramatic moments as we experience today with integralism? Like a common denominator in what is wisdom, compassion and spirituality as human beings This dialogue has already happened and is still happening on many levels At Buddhist-Catholic meetings, for instance, you can easily notice that, in spite of the conflicts, monks always get along, for all of them practice contemplation and therefore they understand the relativity of thought whereas theologians are more attached to those conceptual formulations Thought splits, thought is… ‘diabolic’ - from ancient Greek diaballo, meaning ‘to split’ - while a shared practice is something that ties us together. Now, what’s the problem with religious traditions? Here we touch other issues… issues, however, that don’t concern the scientific study, but rather my personal idea about it, namely that there’s a nondualist way of seeing that every now and then, in spite of all the philosophical differences, manifests itself spontaneously in someone’s life: it shows reality from a non-personal point of view, beyond the separate self. For example, through the teaching of anattā, or ‘not-self’, Buddhism says that the separate self is an illusion. Vedanta too, that is in many ways opposite to Buddhism, emphasizes the need to dissolve the illusion of the jīva, namely the idea of a separate self. The Bhagavadgītā talks about seeing your self within the others’ selves and seeing the others’ selves within your self. There’s really no difference. Jesus says, “Thou shalt love thy fellow man as much as thyself.”, perhaps because your fellow man and you aren’t so far apart, I suppose. So, this is just an example to show how, from time to time, some deep recognition of non-separation begins to shine through the lives of certain human beings It is a way of seeing that doesn’t belong to anyone, far wider than a single person’s mind, and is connected to this perspective of non-separation This seeing can’t be bridled into a doctrine, nor can’t be reached through practice. It’s just there. Yet in the course of time, after the infolding of this nondual communication, as the followers lose gradually sight of the actual experience of it, they often begin to build a formally established tradition that tries to reach that goal through teachings, practices and spiritual maps, thus obscuring its spontaneous immediacy Like that beautiful story of God and the Devil walking arm in arm. They see a man walking along a path, and at a certain point the man stops, glimpses something on the ground, grabs it, and puts it in his pocket At this point, God says the Devil, “Ah! Now you’re going to have a hard time”. The Devil says, “Why?”. And God says, “He’s found a piece of truth, now what are you going to do?”. And the Devil says, “No problem, I’ll help him organise it!” Unfortunately, traditions aren’t just a way to keep this seeing alive, but are often a way to organise it, and thus falsify it However, even in the field of traditions this seeing, which is too lively to be organised or handed down, comes up again spontaneously every now and then in all its original freshness. When traditions recognise, say, their own irrelevance with respect to this seeing, then they can understand each other. Luckily, it happens every now and then. Last question, and that’s one I always ask. The precondition for having a good answer to your doubts, to your existential questions, is the ability to make better questions The precondition for every good question is the ability to see, to challenge our believes, our prejudices. So, which are the distortions, the veils, on which we should work in order to see in depth what we are? Well… There are many possible answers. To me, the essential questions are the most obvious ones, the ones you can’t live without, as I’ve already said, in the sense that, in order to do anything, you first have to rely on some answers, however momentary, to such questions as “What’s reality?” and “Who am I?”. These, I think, are the two main questions. Now, the point is that questions like for instance “Who am I?” are asked through our thought Whenever we are faced with a problem, qquestions are always made of words, and, as I’ve already said, their answers are made of words too. What is two plus two? Four. The question is related to a problem, and the answer has to be formulated as a thought. But when a question is about a mystery, something that involves the person who is asking the question, the problem is not out there, in front of you, because you are part of it The object of the question includes the person who’s asking, as well as the question itself So, obviously, the answer cannot be conceptual. If I ask myself who I am, for example, I will not be satisfied with saying “I’m this-and-that, this is my profession, my nationality, my gender, my age”, and so on…Am I only that? Not at all! I’m something else, I’m something more. Therefore, when I ask “Who am I?”, I can’t follow that question outwards and find some words over there as an answer, but I have to go backwards, toward the very source which the question itself is springing from, because I am what that question comes from, no doubt. I have to go back to the source of the question itself, when the question is not yet formulated, and stand there until the question itself withers, until the seeker himself dies Then you’ll find yourself in a boundless situation, where there’s no need to ask questions. Furthermore, should I add another crucial question, I would think of asking, “What else?”. When we answer to a question, it’s never enough. There’s always so much more. We presume many things in life. For instance, we think: “That man has stolen some money, he’s a thief” Yet let’s ask: “What else then?” Because, if you think that man is a thief and nothing more, it means you see only a single side of him. Why has that man stolen that money? What about his situation? What was there behind all that? And so the world becomes something far richer than a place made of thieves, assassins, liars, or saints. “He’s a saint!”. And what else? He might be something else too For, you see, if we sit a while, with our eyes closed, and let our mind be absolutely free to think choicelessly whatever it comes up, - this is actually what people do with free association in psychoanalysis or when they practice mindfulness meditation if you really let your mind free, without judging, without choosing, you realise that you’re inhabited by any sort of thoughts: the thought of the assassin, of the saint, of the philanthropist, of the thief, of the rapist, there’s everything within us Nihil humani a me alienum puto, said Alan Watts while discussing this point. He said, “I don’t consider anything human as alien to myself.” The whole world is within us Krishnamurti said, “You are the world.”, there’s the whole mankind within us. So, if we allow some space for all this to manifest itself within us - what is beautiful, what is ugly, what is good, what is bad - in this cosy, sensitive space we realize that nothing human is alien to us And so, when we find ourselves in front of the assassin or the thief, of course we’ll do anything in our power to prevent him from doing any harm but we’ll also try to understand him from within, from the human point of view, and not consider him as a monster. The notion of monster is the notion of something you have nothing to share with. Sure. Thinking of someone as a monster means being deeply alien to yourself. There are no monsters, there are just connections we need to see in depth. Only if we find out to which extent I myself am a monster, I can start counteracting the causes that produce monsters, for example in the society we live in. Thank you, Mauro Thank you This historical moment requires a breakthrough understanding of ourselves and the world. We embrace our being transdisciplinar, hybrid, polymath because new visions will emerge at the intersections of different knowledges. A project by Gianandrea Giacoma



The Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale" is the oldest school of Sinology and Oriental Studies of the European continent.


The name "Orientale" is a indication to the origins of the institution. In the mid-17th century, the Manchus established the Qing Empire in China and started a remarkable period of openness towards the west. This included welcoming Christian missionaries and priests. One such person was the missionary, Matteo Ripa, of the Propaganda Fide, from the Kingdom of Naples, who worked as a painter and copper-engraver at the imperial court of the Kangxi Emperor between 1711 and 1723. He returned to Naples from China with four young Chinese Christians, all teachers of their native language; they formed the nucleus of what would become the "Chinese Institute" of Naples, sanctioned by Pope Clement XII in 1732 to teach Chinese to missionaries and thus advance the propagation of Christianity in China.

The school buildings comprised the Complesso dei Cinesi located at the boundary of Capodimonte and the Rione Sanità. What was formerly a private palace had been converted into a monastery and church dedicated to Saint Francesca Romana. Under Matteo Ripa, the complex became a seminary for missionaries to China.

The school also would educate experts for the Ostend Company in Indian and Chinese languages.

Transformations starting in the 19th-century

After the unification of Italy in 1861, the institution was transformed into the "Royal Asian College" and other languages such as Russian, Hindustani, and Persian were added to the curriculum. The original buildings also were used as a school for orphans in 1897, and in 1910 into the Elena d'Aosta hospital.

The institution then became a secular school for the study of eastern languages in general, and then, over the course of decades, African languages and, indeed, all modern European languages. Today more than 50 languages are taught.

Architecture and Decoration

The main entrance to the institute has a frescoed coat of arms of the institute with a half bust of Matteo Ripa sculpted by Leonardo Di Candia.

The domed church of the Holy Family of the Chinese (Sacra Famiglia dei Cinesi) was built in 1732,[1] and refurbished in 1814. The single nave leads to a main altar with marble cherubs sculpted by Angelo Viva. The main altarpiece depicting a Holy Family adored by two of the first Chinese Seminarians (1769) was painted by Antonio Sarnelli.[2] Other paintings were by followers or pupils of Francesco De Mura, including his brother Gennaro. Four saints carved in wood were designed by Francesco Solimena. The Madonna della Misericordia was painted by Stanislao Lista. The sacristy has sculptures by Giuseppe Sammartino.


The Orientale moved into its current headquarters, Palazzo Giusso, in 1932. However, like most universities in Italy, the IUO has no single main "campus," but is spread around the city at a number of different sites. There are several buildings that make up the teaching facilities of the Orientale. These include Palazzo Giusso in the historic center of Naples; the large converted monastery of Santa Maria Porta Coeli near the Naples cathedral; and the new Palazzo Mediterraneo on via Marina. Palazzo Mediterraneo now houses CILA, an acronym for Centro Interdipartimentale dei servizi Linguistici ed Audiovisivi— the "language lab," an award-winning facility that has satellite TV for international programming, an impressive recording studio, and computers for instant access to the Internet.

Four faculties:

These are further sub-divided into nine areas:

  • Asian Studies
  • Classic world and Ancient Mediterranean
  • African and Arabic countries
  • Oriental Europe
  • Social Sciences
  • Philosophy and Politics
  • Comparative Studies
  • American cultural and linguistic studies
  • European literature and linguistic studies

Main Library:

  • Maurizio Taddei, Palazzo Corigliano (over 60.000 ancient volumes)


  1. ^ Carlo Cerano (1860). Giovanni Battista Chiarini, ed. Notizie del bello dell'antico e del curioso della città di Napoli. 5. Naples: Stamperia di Agostino di Pascale. p. 379. This reference says church opened in 1729.
  2. ^ Celano, p. 380.

See also

External links

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