Questionables to Your Unanswerables
From Mark, I won't ask if there's a God, but what is he like? And have you met him? Also, what is consciousness is a good question, but I'd really like to know what is the subconscious and unconscious, how do they operate, and can they be eliminated? Is it possible to be fully conscious?
All exteriors have an interior, however attenuated. Consciousness is the interior of the cosmos. It has been evolving along with the exterior for the past 13.7 billion years. One Western philosopher who emphasized this is Alfred North Whitehead. Although his magnum opus Process and Reality will be a bit much for most readers, his Science and the Modern World is quite accessible.
No, it is not possible to be "fully conscious," because our self-consciousness lives in the dialectical, generative space between the nonlocal, noumenal ground of consciousness-as-such and our evolved nervous system. Consciousness is refracted through the lens of this nervous system, and is as boundless and inexhaustible as our dream life. It generates constant novelty. In fact, consciousness is the reason why there is so much beautiful and meaningful novelty instead of mere chaos and ugliness. As you may have heard somewhere, all things were made through it, and without it nothing was made that was made. It shines in the dark, but the dorks don't comprehend it.
You cannot eliminate the unconscious, but you can have insight into destructive and self-defeating parts of yourself that have lodged there ("mind parasites"), while hitching a ride on the "higher" aspect of consciousness and using it to your--actually, its--benefit. As a matter of fact, the higher only operates if one approaches it with the utmost humility and sincerity, not to mention respect.
Consciousness extends vertically in both directions, toward a lower zero point of apparent infinite nescience to a higher zero point of empty plenitude. The idea is to orient yourself on the vertical plane toward the higher, and thereby generate what might be called "theologoumena" ("God phenomena," as opposed to surface phenomena or the unKnowable infinite noumenon). This is what it means to "be at play in the fields of the lord," or to experience "the joy of the harvest."
This is how you 1) "meet God" (so to speak) and 2) "find out what he's like." In the West, God operates through the Word. In the East, they say that the world is God's play, or lila. Thus, reality from God's perspective is a lot of extraordinarily clever wordplay. The world is actually made of language, but language is not of this world, if you know what I mean. Nor is our ability to comprehend the language. Both arise from the nonlocal Word--the world is intelligible because we are an image of the process that made it so.
I realized after I wrote this yesterday that it might sound a bit flip, but you must understand both "word" and "play" in the "broadest way imarginable," as Joyce put it. This is an idea with which I am currently playing at very diligently for my next book, and I will provide updates as they become available.
JWM asked, How do you define salvation? In our culture the term is most commonly associated with the Christian religion, but I have seen the term in Buddhist literature as well.
Do you have a definition that cuts across the differences in various religions? Is it up the same tree as enlightenment?
Salvation is spoken of in different ways in different traditions. I am of the belief that religion often involves metaphysics without knowledge. That is, embedded in any religious tradition are all sorts of metaphysical insights that are expressed in an obscure, ambiguous, symbolic, or mythological way. Thus, they have to be unpacked and understood.
What is salvation? From what do we need to be saved? I believe that the deeper meaning of the "fall" involves our entrance into the dimension of time. Time is not actually possible without eternity, but evolution is not possible without time. Therefore, we need to be saved from our apparent separation from the eternal, as we engage in our evolutionary sprint from monkey mind to divine mind.
For example, it is quite easy to fit Jesus into this paradigm. Adam's fall is the fall from timeless communion with God into the separative consciousness of duality and strife. Jesus represents the Universal Principle--the abstract absolute outside time and space--taking on particular form, the "concrete absolute." Thus, Jesus is the Ultimate made Particular, or word made flesh.
However, the Bible clearly teaches that we may share in this process--that it didn't just happen one time to one person. Rather, it perennially occurs in the eternal ground in which we participate at the deepest level. We may be sons of God "through adoption," and thereby be saved from the ravages of time, here and now. We may make the eternal present in us. But it must be "realized," because it is anterior to our surface being.
The Upanishads discuss the problem in a slightly different way, but I think it's the same idea: to disidentify with the local personality and see that atman and brahman are not-two.
That's a quick answer.
Is it up the same tree as enlightenment? Most definitely. The fully realized person has reversed the fall, or turned figure and ground inside out. He has reversed the vector flow that misleadingly draws consciousness downstream to the objects of the senses. In short, he has realized that the cosmos is tree with its roots aloft, its branches down here below. It's a Tree of Life for those whose wood beleaf.
Tamquam Leo Rugiens asked Back in October you had a series on Cosmic Solidarity in which you promised a continuation of the theme touching on Judaism and Christianity. It seems to have gotten as far as Swami Moishe, and there it ended. I would very much appreciate an explication leading into the Christian era.
Yes, I put the kibosh on that little series because it seemed to me that it was a little pedantic and wasn't generating much interest. The main point I would emphasize is that all religions, in my view, must be reconsidered in light of the sort of cosmic evolutionary paradigm outlined in my book or by people like Ken Wilber. With regard to the East, this has been most ably and exhaustively enunciated by Sri Aurobindo, who had the benefit of a Cambridge education and integrated Vedanta with the modern world. In the West, virtually the identical task was achieved by Teilhard de Chardin, whose Phenomenon of Man situated Christianity within a cosmic evolutionary scheme.
Both Aurobindo and Teilhard were pioneers and cosmic omsteaders who necessarily painted their symphonies with a somewhat broad brush. Aurobindo wrote his most important works in the nineteen-teens (before all of the implications of the quantum revolution had even been worked out), while Teilhard had most of his important insights in the 1920's, even though they were not published until after he died in 1959 because of church politics. (By the way, I'm sure someone like Pope John Paul would have been far more receptive to Teilhard's ideas.)
So our task is to fill in the details of the truly grand spectacle of cosmic evolution set forth by these two mighty explorers. So many philosophies are not worthy of man. Even if true in some small, technical sense of the term, they are false in their narrow ignorance of the upper reaches of the human soul and of the awesome adventure of consciousness--the only adventure there has ever been or will be.
KMac says I'm a lapsed atheist (broke away from the "religion" -- don't believe in a supreme being but know that there's more than what we can see, hear, and eat). I've been asked how I can say I don't believe that God created the universe -- I've answered that if God created the universe, what was God doing before then? Even that's absurd (i.e., what was God doing before there was time/existence) -- I routinely receive a curt "you shouldn't ask that question ..."
It is true that you cannot ask what God was doing "before" he created the universe. So much trouble is caused by our reliance upon language, which, in its superficial sense, is geared to the problems of matter, not consciousness, much less the ground of consciousness. We often mistake a deficiency of language for a key to truth. In order to discuss these deeper ontological questions, language must be deployed in a special, nonlinear, non-dualistic and poetic way. I attempted to achieve this in my book, whether successfully or unsuccessfully I cannot say (at least for others--it works for me). The ground of existence is ineffable, but not completely ineffin' so.
To disentangle this conundrum, you must understand the distinction between time and eternity. Eternity is not time everlasting, but timelessness. For reasons that I cannot completely elucidate here, time and eternity are actually aspects of one another--they are dialectically related. In one sense, time may be thought of as the serial deployment of something that lies outside time. Thus, it is not located "in the past," because no matter how far back you go, you are still dealing with chronological time. Rather, the only possible place it could be now. Again, not in a temporal now, but an eternal now. As it so happens the mysterious now, so inexplicable in terms of any model physics has ever come up with, is the intersection of time and eternity, and we are the self-aware locus where this occurs--where the vertical meets the horizontal.
I believe God is the universe -- and where it came from (or going, whether it's finite, infinite ...) - I have no idea; indeed, "God" is the most profound way to express that which a mere human can't know, unable to even form the question let alone answer it.
Of course God is the universe, but he is also radically beyond the universe. In order to understand fully, you must hold the paradoxical idea that God is both radically immanent and radically transcendent. And the immanence and transcendence extend infinitely in both directions.
Finally, a question (sorry for the preamble) - do you think common ground is possible between those who view The Bible as the literal word of God vs. allegorical text of the contemplation of God?
Yes, in the sense that the common ground is the Bible. It's like asking if there is common ground between people who believe a work of Shakespeare can be interpreted one way or another. Scripture is a very special kind of language that is hyperdense with meanings that correspond to whatever level of consciousness the exegete brings to it, from the simplest and most literal to the highest and most subtle. (One can easily relate religious understanding to, say, Piaget's stages of cognitive development. Earlier stages structure their knowing in one way, later stages in a completely different way.)
One must bear in mind that, ironically, the fundamentalist movement is a thoroughly modern development, having only gotten underway in the 20th century. It is actually simply a mirror image of, and reaction to, the metaphysically unsophisticated secular fundamentalism that surrounds us. The fundamentalist way of viewing the Bible would be entirely foreign to people like Denys the Areopagite, Meister Eckhart, John Scottus Eriugena, John Tauler, Nicholas of Cusa, and so many other Christian greats. They all regarded scripture as a sort of "kernel" that had an outer meaning that had to be penetrated, or "broken through." Indeed, the same can be said for the greatest of all Jewish theologians, Moses Maimonides.
This is actually what sets Christianity apart from Islam and makes it thoroughly compatible with an evolutionary paradigm. That is, Christianity evolves with our understanding of it, something that has always been standard doctrine until recent fundamentalist distortions. Islam, on the other hand, is set in stone in the 8th century. It is anti-evolutionary to the core (with the notable exception of Sufism).
Anonymous notes that he did "a lot of 'unpacking' in the sixties, but consider myself a recovering atheist now--happy in my state of suspended disbelief. I guess you could say I'm in denial of denial.
Anyway, after reading your blog for the past few days, I can't believe I have the temerity to disagree with you, but my experience led me to conclude that deconstructing (or unpacking) religious belief left me essentially belief-less, unless you count my resulting atheism. My point and my question are the same: don't mystery and ambiguity have a place in religious tradition?
First of all, atheism is not a state of suspended belief, but a definite spiritual state. If spirituality may be understood as registering on a certain frequency of consciousness, atheism always resonates at a very specific frequency or "wave length" of the consciousness spectrum. In the end, it is simply a frank confession not of ignorance, but of "ignosis."
At least for me, "deconstructing or unpacking" religious belief does not result in belieflessness, but actually liberates consciousness from its enslavement to the literal. One is vaulted into a different space, the space from which the primordial mystery perpetually arises. What I have discovered, to my everlasting surprise, is that once in this space, one finds that it actually has its own very real characteristics and attributes. I know this because every day I receive confirmation from other explorers who see and experience the same thing. It's as if they are all setting voyage into an unknown sea but all returning with vaguely similar--sometimes strikingly so--descriptions of the flora and fauna on the other side. I can only reemphasize that this is most mysterious indeed.
The mapmaking continues. In fact, we've hardly begun. Look at it this way. Europe only made its way westward to the New World in 1492. The westward exploration continued until the late nineteenth century, when the frontier was closed. Then the exploration began delving "within" matter and time with Einstein's revolution, outward into space, and back to the origins of the material universe with big bang cosmology. The detailed exploration of the unconscious only got underway with the publication of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. 21st century spirituality will involve more detailed mapping of the post-egoic realm, and situating it within the grand evolutionary epic in which we are the central players.