Sunday, February 19, 2006

Playing Along the Infinite Shore Where the Eternal Breaks Into Time

Reader Brother Bartleby has posed one of the central questions I have been grappling with in my attempt to formulate a new theology. And when I say "new theology," I don't mean theology per se but perhaps meta-theology. As I mentioned in my book, I am not trying to become a "guru" or invent a new religion. Rather, I'm trying to better understand how the existing ones work when they work and why they don't when they don't. Because they definitely work. Except when they don't. The question is why.

Yesterday I wrote that "The idea is to live fruitfully in the dialectical space between the conscious and unconscious minds," adding that I would elaborate later. But Brother Bartleby can't wait. He asks, "Is this a conscious state to be lived in the present moment (waking hours), a sort of mindfulness, or is this an actual state, say between waking and sleep which when utilized wisely can actually change the trajectory of ones life? Or....? Please elaborate."

Well, that's what I'm working on. One thing I detest about most so-called spiritual teachers is their mystagoguery. Perhaps you've noticed that they are full of beautiful blather until it comes to certain key points around which they become very vague and evasive. Then they might even blame you for your failure to understand or for a lack of sincerity. It's a common guru trick: blame the seeker.

It is similar to a lot of academic writing. If you really understand something, you should be able to explain it in very clear language. But if you don't understand something, then you can always fall back on confusing and portentous language to make people believe that they are just too stupid to understand your rarified ideas. Also, sometimes the ideas are so banal that they need to be dressed up in overblown language to make them appear exotic or elevated. Most contemporary philosophy is of this nature.

But you can have the opposite problem as well. For example, the words of Jesus are very simple and even at times rustic, and yet, they are among the deepest words ever spoken by a human being. Because of their deceptive simplicity, we can think we have understood them when we haven't even begun to plumb their depth. His words are uniquely "unsaturated" on the vertical level, and will mean very different things at different times based upon your own spiritual growth. The words will come down to your level, but you mustn't allow this to fool you into thinking that you don't have to "ascend" in order to deepen your understanding of them. You can deceive yourself into thinking you've understood, when you've only just begun. Most of his statements can be fruitfully pondered for a lifetime, and are not reducible to an unambiguous rational theology, as so many people try to do.

This then brings us back to language. Since I brought up Christianity, I'll stick with that example. What on earth was Jesus up to with his striking use of language? Obviously something very special. He used language almost in a magical way designed to transform the person with ears to hear it. How did he know how to do that? And in our modern, sophisticated way of understanding language, is this critical factor lost on us?

It certainly is. On the one hand, we have literalists and fundamentalists who want to take the words of Jesus as unambiguous communications, as if he is making scientific statements about the material world. On the other hand, we have progressive liberal theologians and Jesus seminarians who dissect and drain his words of their richly mythological dimension, so that they fail in their primary task of resonating with the deeper layers of consciousness.

Again, truth can be deceptively simple. Take, for example, the word "depth" as applied to human affairs. Has anyone ever explained to you what this means, and why such a thing should exist at all if we are nothing but Darwinian machines? As a matter of fact, one of the projects of postmodernism is to attack the very concept of depth with their spiritual wrecking ball, and make everything equal to everything else. There is no higher or lower, no hierarchy of being, just a cosmic flatland of arbitrary meanings that we assign things.

But in fact, there is something ontologically real called depth. Depth is the measure of the vertical, and our souls are the means of measuring it. Furthermore, this is where God is encountered: in the depth, in the deep within of things. If not there, where? On the surface? No, that is the way of graven images. God is found in the "I" and the "AM," but certainly not understood in a narcissistic sense, as if "I am God." Again, words can be so simple that they can deceive us into thinking we have understood them--and what can be more simple than "I am"? But almost no one understands what this means, and if they understood completely, they would be God, wouldn't they?

"The idea is to live fruitfully in the dialectical space between the conscious and unconscious minds." What did Petey mean by this cryptic statement? Is it just the usual mystagoguery? Or will he get on with it and explain himself? "Is this a conscious state to be lived in the present moment (waking hours), a sort of mindfulness, or is this an actual state, say between waking and sleep which when utilized wisely can actually change the trajectory of ones life?"

First off, no, it is not the latter. It is definitely not a sort of hypnopompic state between waking and sleeping, although that state certainly has much to recommend itself and is worth cultivating, as it is an important piece of prime real estate where the waves of the eternal lap ashore into consciousness.

"Is this a conscious state to be lived in the present moment (waking hours), a sort of mindfulness?" That is more like it, although I wouldn't confuse it with the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, because that is a more detached state, when I am talking about a very engaged and dynamic state of engagement. In fact, it is one of the reasons I rejected Buddhism--perhaps because of my upbringing in the Christian west--because I firmly believe that the world is worthy of our being in it, and that "enlightenment," or whatever you want to call it, must take place in the world, not in some detached nirvanic state of bliss. I like a challenge. (And I'm not saying Buddhism isn't right for others.)

For the record, this is the entire basis of Sri Aurobindo's yoga, and what sets it apart from other forms. In this regard, it is much closer to Judaism and Christianity, which unwaveringly regard the world as real and not an illusory condition from which we are best advised to escape: "The object of our Yoga is self-perfection, not self-annulment. There are two paths, withdrawal from the universe and perfection in the Universe... the first receives us when we lose God in Existence, the second is attained when we fulfill existence in God. Let ours be the path of perfection, not of abandonment; let our aim be victory in battle, not escape from the conflict." In other words, the task is to actually embody the higher, to bring it down into the lower, not to flee from life and thereby lose our sense of the divinity in everyday living.

I am going to continue with this line of thought in tomorrow's post, which I am actually going to complete right now, since I have to leave very early Monday morning and won't have time. Don't worry--unlike my competitors, I'm not trying to go Deepak on you and leave you hanging just when we've gotten to the important part. However, do keep in mind our new blogging covenant--that I am trying to figure this out and learn how to express it as I go along. Sort of a mutual discovery. Or just a wild nous chase. We don't know yet.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your work is very provocative, in a sense. Writing this is perhaps premature but I need to put some thoughts down so I will know what they are and learn in the process where they might lead. Dialectics, you understand.

I agree with you that there is a "deep within of things". But I think at the same time that the simplest most mundane things contains as much of the devine (spirit) as anything. There is a sense, surely, in which everything is equal to everything else. A simple twist of a conscious switch makes a world of difference and suddenly a grain of sand is infused with cosmic significance. That grain of sand and I are the same stuff and not only that but we share constituents with the whole galaxy and the parent cosmos. If there is divinity anywhere it is here too, in the smallest things. Just a matter of degree, no? Though you deride the "spiritual wrecking ball " that makes "everything equal to everything else" you say at the end of your post "the task is to actually embody the higher, to bring it down into the lower, not to flee from life and thereby lose our sense of the divinity in everyday living". I think I understand you and appreciate that postmodernism's moral relativism is seriously flawed.

One can do nothing but live fruitfully whether in the space between the conscious/unconscious mind or not. Question is are the fruits moral, ethical, life enhancing, in your words, "let ours be the path of perfection, not of abandonment." I am not sure I agree that enlightenment, for the Buddhist, takes place in another world however. It has been argued that a basic fault of Christianity is that one must be brought out of the world altogether to reach the heavenly state(the real is two), though I don't agree that is the true inner meaning. I would mention that the Israelies were "brought out of" bondage in Egypt to the "Promised land" as the precursor to the forms encountered in Christian theology. Personally I don't see much difference between the final spiritual goal of the Buddhist or the Christian from the standpoint of the esoteric teachings of both traditions, as I understand them.

Jesus. I worshiped him as a youth. Then I rejected his teachings out of ignorance. Then I studied Indian philosophy. Then I embraced Jesus' teachings afresh because I learned in my sojourn to the East how to read his words. Never really understood, for instance, "I am the light and the way and no man cometh to the Father except by me." (paraphrase) Well, the Buddha could have written this, or it could have been a passage in the Bhagavad Gita, for instance. It is just a simple sentence but the profoundest statement of the truth there is with a meaning worlds apart from the literal words.

In your profile you write of the "annoying veil that separates them (us) from ultimate reality". Not possible for there to be such a separation. Prima facie, whatever real there is extends thru us/them and all that is. "From the standpoint of ultimate reality there is no difference between the knower and the known." All dichotomy is false in the final analysis. We all live in eternity and ultimate knowledge is as simple as realizing the meaning that "nothing can be said that can do more for enlightenment than what a finger pointing at the moon can do for seeing the moon*." It is, (Plotinus, I think said this) the "flight of the alone to the alone." And also pertinent, as an old teacher said to our class once, "I ask you, does a waterfall ever change?" Of course, the answer is yes AND no. When you see, you see that you have always BEEN seeing. There is "seeing" going on from beginning to end. Not much else happening.

"I take refuge in that same primal spirit whence issued forth of old the whole cosmic activity+." This issuing forth is everlasting (I seem to recall you have said the big bang is still banging away, right?) and goes on even in my writing of these words. The whole cosmic activity and thus the primal spirit both underpin this very sentence, and the intention that produces it, and the understanding that inheres in it, and in the goodness that informs the conscience of the person wanting to share this thought process. And I say to you that sentient beings are just mechanisms whereby the "primal spirit" is able to have self knowledge. Or stardust, or the ultimate reality, or God.

So, in my mind, the problem is merely to architect a belief system the adherents of which will tend to moral behavior. Conscience inheres, I believe, in intention whether on the cosmological or personal level, the presence of which, as an evolute, agreeing with LeCompte DuNouy, tends to prove intelligent design. Another philosopher I revere, Kelly Ross, writes a smart piece about bushido explaining why adherents of Zen (evolved from Dhyana) were able with a "clear" conscience to turn themselves into kamikaze pilots in WWII. So this is a serious problem especially, and you have dealt with this in depth too in your writing, with regard to Islam.

Final thoughts. You write about vertical and horizontal understanding/knowledge with vertical being towards the diety or the absolute. I don't have my head around this completely, I haven't read all you have written, but ponder that the vertical might just be the horizontal, and vice versa...in the final analysis. (supra) I focus on the towards, on the process. Any system of philosophy, or religion, for that matter, should allow that ultimate knowledge is impossible. There always remains an element of mystery. Our understanding is always TOWARD final resolution yet it escapes us at the last because an element of mystery always remains part of the mix. Isn't this part of a living system, to always grow beyond our reach just as we grasp the top of the climb? The Myth of Sysyphus comes to mind here. The end of the struggle to know is rewarded by knowing that there will always be something new. The waterfall analogy.

I love your work. Sorry I have been so long. Just wanted to convey that this cog in the wheel has much sympathy for your efforts. Your hard work and dilligence are much appreciated. I think God is a blogger....thru you.



John Hinds (jhinds at asapchoice.com)

*www.friesian.com/divebomb.htm (Dr. Kelly Ross)
+Bhagavad Gita

2/19/2006 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Anonymous--

Thank you for that long and thoughtful comment. I’ll do my best to respond to the points you raise. Forgive typos.

“I think at the same time that the simplest most mundane things contains as much of the devine (spirit) as anything.”

--Yes and no. It is a parodox of course. The divine is closer than the closest thing, yet more distant (i.e., transcendent) than the most distant thing. The paradox must be maintained. As I continue writing about my ideas, I will explain why. It has to do with the nature of symmetrical logic in the vertical, where one thing and its opposite can--and must be--equally true.

“There is a sense, surely, in which everything is equal to everything else.”

--Again, yes and no. You can say yes, but only if you simultaneously say no, of course not, that’s perfectly monstrous!

“A simple twist of a conscious switch makes a world of difference and suddenly a grain of sand is infused with cosmic significance.

--Yes, but you see, the switch of consciousness took place in the vertical, and changed your perspective on things.

“That grain of sand and I are the same stuff and not only that but we share constituents with the whole galaxy and the parent cosmos.”

--Yes, but quality counts! It’s all ultimately consciousness, but some consciousnesses are higher than others.

“If there is divinity anywhere it is here too, in the smallest things. Just a matter of degree, no?”

--Yes, of course. The degrees are in the vertical.

“One can do nothing but live fruitfully whether in the space between the conscious/unconscious mind or not. Question is are the fruits moral, ethical, life enhancing, in your words,”

--You’ll have to allow me time to explain exactly what I mean! I can’t wait to find out myself.

“I am not sure I agree that enlightenment, for the Buddhist, takes place in another world however.”

--Central to Buddhism is the doctrine of maya, that the world is ultimately an illusion and that much of our suffering is caused by clinging to that illusion.

“It has been argued that a basic fault of Christianity is that one must be brought out of the world altogether to reach the heavenly state (the real is two), though I don't agree that is the true inner meaning.”

--No, that’s not the true inner meaning at all. Certainly not in the Orthodox tradition, the ultimate goal of which is to achieve the state of theosis, or divinization iof the self.

“Personally I don't see much difference between the final spiritual goal of the Buddhist or the Christian from the standpoint of the esoteric teachings of both traditions, as I understand them.”

--I find the differences fairly stark, and I believe they contributed heavily to the economic, political and scientific stagnation of the Orient and the great leap forward of the Occident. Occidents don’t just happen, you know. You should check out Rodney Stark's work on why science, free markets and indiviudualism only emerged in the Christian West.

“In your profile you write of the "annoying veil that separates them (us) from ultimate reality". Not possible for there to be such a separation.”

--Just being ironic, you know. However, my understanding of sin and fallenness is that we are indeed separated from our source and in exile in this strange land until we reconnect with it.

"From the standpoint of ultimate reality there is no difference between the knower and the known." All dichotomy is false in the final analysis. We all live in eternity and ultimate knowledge is as simple as realizing the meaning that "nothing can be said that can do more for enlightenment than what a finger pointing at the moon can do for seeing the moon*."

--I realize that that is the Buddhist belief, but I don’t like it. I’m much more of a trinitarian, in that I think dynamic union is a much greater good. After all, it can hardly be a universe of love if it’s all one. Unless it’s a very narcissistic universe.

“It is, (Plotinus, I think said this) the "flight of the alone to the alone."

--Yes, that was one of Plotinus' wisecracks, but there’s where the Greek neo-Platonic formulation deviages from Christianity, which I think was a great advance in understanding the inner life of the Godhead.

“Final thoughts. You write about vertical and horizontal understanding/knowledge with vertical being towards the diety or the absolute. I don't have my head around this completely, I haven't read all you have written, but ponder that the vertical might just be the horizontal, and vice versa...in the final analysis.”

--No, can’t be. Quality cannot be reduced to quantity, semantics to syntax. Both are needed for there to be a universe. Everything this side of manifestation partakes of both: that’s what it means to live in a logoistic universe that is primarily made of words, not things.

“I focus on the towards, on the process. Any system of philosophy, or religion, for that matter, should allow that ultimate knowledge is impossible. There always remains an element of mystery. Our understanding is always TOWARD final resolution yet it escapes us at the last because an element of mystery always remains part of the mix.”

--Yes, but it’s another one of those foundational paradoxes. Ultimate knowledge is possible, except that it’s always partial. It’s a rolling disclosure of the Aion, which always holds a little in reserve. As I said in my book, it's always reveiling itself.

2/19/2006 04:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Hoarhey said...

Bob,

I myself will be satisfied with anything you've come up with so far on living in the "dialectical space". I'm always looking for new ideas to weigh against my own experience and possibly add to my tool bag.

You wrote:
"unlike my competitors, I'm not trying to go Deepak on you and leave you hanging just when we've gotten to the important part. However, do keep in mind our new blogging covenant--that I am trying to figure this out and learn how to express it as I go along. Sort of a mutual discovery. Or just a wild nous chase. We don't know yet".

As I see it, you have almost no competition. A Spitiualist (for lack of a better word) who is able to maintain common sense is as rare a commodity today as it has been throughout history.
I classify Deeprock Chakra in with the rest of the charlatans I’ve heard, found lacking and sifted out through the years. Their “wisdom” seems not to last past the initial feel good.

2/19/2006 09:22:00 PM  
Blogger Bro. Bartleby said...

Oh my, I am at present wandering the desert, yes, desert as in sand, lots of sand, and this sort of jury-rigged laptop email setup only gives me a short time, but nevertheless, just was presented with "Jesus and the sword" query from one who wanted a bit of clarification, and I will share it here, for it is Jesus of the few words that takes many of us a lifetime to get.

Matthew: 10:34-36
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”

We read this in context, Jesus instructing His 12 disciples before setting them off on their mission to spread the Good News to the people of Israel. I believe Jesus was making clear that His Way was not the traditional honor-based way (that which is captive of blood and clan and tribe). To choose ‘The Way’ one may well have to use the figurative sword and cleave with family and friends—which may set a new believer again his father and mother, and all those that are bound by the blood of the clan.

2/20/2006 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Bro. Bartleby said...

Addendum: Before I unplug this laptop inside this telephone booth, outside the wind is howling! Okay, just had an "ahh haa!" moment, and recall writing "Is this a conscious state to be lived in the present moment (waking hours), a sort of mindfulness..." and I do believe a careful reading of the Gospels with your eyes peeled for when Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God (Heaven), for he infers that it is immediate! It is at hand! We can live in the Kingdom of God, right now!

2/20/2006 04:59:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home