Introduction to Transcendental Realism

by Erik van Erp, PhD

“Art then is a becoming and happening of truth.”

—Martin Heidegger
“The Origin of the Work of Art”


Art speaks for itself, in silence. Yet, some words can be spoken to assist its reception. In the text you have before you, Transcendental Realism, the artist, Adi Da Samraj, speaks of his art, his purposes, and the unique artistic discipline by which those purposes are realized. This is an unusual text. You will find that it does not conform easily to familiar categories of “art speak”. It will not fit in comfortably and unobtrusively in the mental planes of discourse that surround modern art. It resists quick and easy digestion, even by those of sophisticated intellect. Like Adi Da’s art itself, this text is a confrontation, and is deeply at odds with the trends of post-modernism. It requires—and deserves—attentive reading.

Adi Da crafts his writings with the same serious intent and meticulous discipline with which he makes his images. More than a verbal explanation of what his art is “really” all about, this body of words, much like Adi Da’s art itself, is a “transformational environment”. If you have seen Adi Da’s art, and wonder what or who it was that moved you, a careful consideration of this text will serve to integrate the immediacy of the aesthetic experience into a transformed understanding—of Adi Da’s art, of art altogether, and of the most profound dimensions of human experience.

The text of Transcendental Realism is a speaking that accompanies the art. It requires, first of all, a right viewing of the art. The words of this artist must be heard in the same open space in which his art exists. An introduction like this runs the risk of performing the anti-miracle of turning wine into water. Schopenhauer once remarked that scholars who write commentary on great philosophy are filtering great intelligence through a small mind, which is like trying to fit the ocean in a thimble. Adi Da’s text is poetic, yet precise; profoundly logical, yet full of paradox. And, while requiring thoughtful study, its meanings do not reside, exactly, at the level of thought.

On the first page of the book is printed a circular word-image, “Reality Itself Is Truth Itself Is The Beautiful Is . . .”. This, at once, defines the circle of essential meaning in which the text moves. It is a circle that encompasses Plato, the Upanishads, and the alchemical experiments of Gertrude Stein. It is a circle in which antiquity meets modernism—a circle that freely embraces all serious achievements of human civilization and culture. There is no irony here, no post-modern tongue-in-cheek. In Transcendental Realism, Adi Da announces his serious intent to renew the “modernist” program, and he is not going to settle for less than the traditionally required measure of art as Reality, Truth, The Beautiful, realized as an indivisible unity.

The text itself is a perfect circle, an integrated whole that is hard to break into “chewable” pieces without removing its essential force. It proceeds from the universal to the particular—without, in fact, ever leaving the universal. Adi Da always returns the reader to the unity of Being, no matter what the topic under consideration. This “circularity” (or indivisible unity) that underlies the text is responsible for the astounding depth of its beginning. The first essay of the book presents a tower of meaning on a single page. Through the universality and reiterations of its statement it connects to the circular poem on the first page. But here the circle is manifested in the guise of logic. The language is precise, mathematical, without redundancy. But the logic guides us into an abyss of meaning, where the mind loses its foothold. As best as language can support it, Adi Da states here how the measure of art (and all culture) is grounded in reality. In Adi Da’s understanding, there is nothing arbitrary about true culture. True culture is grounded in reality. Virtue is grounded in reality. Art, and its rightful purpose, is grounded in reality. And to be grounded in reality, the book, at its very “beginning”, must call its own language into being, and provide its own context.

To reach his end, and to elaborate his beginning, Adi Da repeatedly utilizes a specific set of ordinary words. While starting out with their familiar meanings, their repeated use in gradually widening circles pushes their meanings in new and unheard-of directions. This linguistic strategy is akin to that of the philosopher Martin Heidegger. There is, in fact, a certain affinity between this text and Heidegger’s writings. To be sure, there is no “influence” of Heidegger’s thinking here, no direct reference. The affinity is more essential. Heidegger’s sole concern was to re-insert the question of the meaning of Being into the heart of philosophy. He realized that the failure of his first attempts in this direction was deeply related to the very character and project of Western metaphysics. Metaphysics proceeds from “beings” to Being, by questioning “beings” as to their mode of being, thus hoping to arrive at the truth of Being Itself. Instead, Heidegger thought, if we are to attempt to speak of Being Itself, our very speaking must originate from Being, instead of merely moving toward it. This required a profound historical leap. Whether Heidegger’s own attempts in this direction were successful is open to debate. But one is reminded of the struggle of this great philosopher when one reads that Adi Da creates his art as “a Self-Portrait of Reality Itself”, and regards his artistic discipline as a means to enable “the Direct (and Intrinsically egoless) Self-Presentation of Reality Itself”. What Adi Da presents us with, it seems, is a sign of that historical “leap” and new beginning that Heidegger, in his philosophical intuitions, knew before him.

While the aim of Transcendental Realism is not primarily to elaborate his radical “philosophy” on the nature of Reality, Adi Da’s artistic purposes, his consideration of the nature of his own art (and even all art), and his description of his unique manner of working are all grounded and elaborated in the context of this fundamental understanding. Adi Da has, of necessity, developed his own unique language to do his speaking, because of the radical nature of what is being said. Adi Da’s language enables him to express transcendental purposes without getting trapped in metaphysics, and its movement to “elsewhere”. It is also through this language that Adi Da redefines, in radical terms, some of the basic categories of modern art—specifically, “representational art”, “objective art”, and “subjective art”. These terms are redefined, re-evaluated, and even “measured” against Adi Da’s unique understanding of Reality and its inherent demands.

One of the fundamental notions in this remarkable text is what Adi Da calls “transcending ‘point of view'”. The consideration of “point of view”—sometimes under the name of “perspective”—is, of course, a familiar theme in art criticism, and plays a pivotal role in discourse on modernism. Adi Da’s treatment of the notion deliberately links up with that artistic tradition. But the notion of “point of view” has many connotations, and its meaning could equally well be considered in the context of modern physics or neuroscience. Adi Da’s use of the term freely references all such contexts of meaning. But those familiar references serve as the starting point for the communication of an essentially new understanding. In direct contrast to the common understanding of the term, Adi Da holds that “point of view” is not inherent to perception itself! One could say that there can be “viewing” without “point of view”. Thus, Adi Da states that “point of view” is not necessary—and, indeed, entirely fictitious. Not just what is seen “from” a “point of view” is illusory (or incomplete, or in whatever way presumed to be distorted), but the very presumption that the perceiver is located at a “point” in space-time (perhaps somewhere inside the brain), always “stepped back” from what is being viewed, is itself the root-illusion.

One pole, or aspect, of “point of view” is the false presumption that there is some kind of permanent center of attention—an “ego”, or “self”, or “subject”—at the root, or somewhere “inside”, of experience. On the “other side” of attention, “objects” are co-constructed with the “ego”. Once “point of view” is assumed, there seems to be some field that exists independently and “outside” of attention, as the world of “things” (or “objects”) onto which attention casts its eye. But Adi Da maintains that, “there are no ‘objects’ in Reality Itself”. This does not mean to say that reality exists as some kind of subjective dream. Rather, both the “subjective self” and its “world of objects”—as separate and independent “somethings”—are illusory, or without real being.

“Reality Itself”, then, is expressly not the Kantian “Ding an sich“, or “thing itself”. It is not the “objective world” of ordinary “realism”. But neither is it the merely “subjective” realm of “idealism”. It is, most simply, that which is the case, as opposed to that which is presumed to be the case. And in “It” there exists no “point of view”. Reality Itself is not knowable from any defined “point of view”. However, in every instant in which “point of view” is transcended—that is, in every moment in which one forgets to actively “create” one’s experience in the mold of the ego-and-its-objects—Reality Itself is Self-Apprehended as Truth Itself, and as The Beautiful Itself, in what Adi Da calls “egoless Coincidence with Reality Itself”. It is in that egoless state that Adi Da makes his images, and it is that same state into which the viewer is drawn by right participation in his art.

Against this background, the specifics of Adi Da’s artistic discipline and his manner of creating images can be understood and appreciated. For example, Adi Da’s description of the process of abstraction in relation to the always present meaning-context of his art, and his rejection of the alternatives of “subjective” self-expression versus “objective” representation, are clarified and grounded in that universal consideration.

Conversely, the essays in which Adi Da elaborates the principles and details of his artistic process add further clarity to his consideration of Reality, by showing, very concretely and specifically, how Reality Itself is set to work in the spontaneous discipline of his image-making, and how no “point of view” needs to enter the picture.

The various layers of meaning of the text are thus inseparable. Ultimately, what Adi Da communicates here is not something that is meant to be grasped by mental effort alone. Real “understanding” would entail the transcending of “point of view” in the reader. It is exactly to serve that process that Adi Da makes his art. “Art is the setting-into-work of truth”, says Heidegger. In the sensuous sphere of mere perception, in direct participation in the “space” of Adi Da’s images, the fullest meaning of the text is tacitly communicated.

So enjoy and be illuminated by these words and images. Let the “geometry” of Adi Da’s text fold itself into the tissues of your thought—its straight lines of analytic clarity, the circular and centerless unity of its origin and purpose, and the sharp angles it makes with the plane of the familiar. Through the rapture of aesthetic pleasure, and the cracks of inevitable discomfort, Adi Da reveals his secrets and opens up the groundless ground of Being.