Monday, November 27, 2006

How Do You Play Celestial Music On a Slab of Meat?

Now, regarding those pesky physical symptoms that are commonly encountered along the spiritual path. It seems that most everyone experiences them at one time or another. It’s just a matter of intensity. For example, tears are very common when one touches the spiritual plane, and tears are obviously a physical symptom. I’m guessing that for most people who have had “born again” experiences, it was obviously much deeper than a mere “change of mind,” like choosing to purchase one car over another. Rather, the whole point is that the experience is “earth shattering,” like an energy that penetrates through various sheaths of the being.

But then the energy withdraws again. Or it gets stuck. Or it is rejected and ignored altogether. Or something within the being systematically resists and repels it.

Now, even for skeptics out there, it shouldn’t be too difficult to conceptualize the idea of spiritual energy. Just think of it as analogous to mental energy, only on a higher plane. The universe, as we know, is constituted of energy that is merely transformed in various ways. But most any religious metaphysics would affirm that the nature of the primordial energy constituting the physical universe is actually spiritual, not material.

Technically this is explained by the concept of “involution” as opposed to evolution. One of the reasons natural selection is so incoherent in terms of being an ultimate (as opposed to partial) explanation of evolution is that one cannot derive the greater from the lesser: the gap between dead matter and the most insignificant living thing is literally infinite, as is the gap between animal consciousness and consciousness that may know truth -- including the truth of its own evolution. For evolution is a fact. The argument is over how it occurs, not that it occurs.

In the past, I have used the baseball analogy to discuss bad philosophies which start at second base without any explanation within their philosophy of how they have gotten to first. For example, the first supposition of natural selection is not “random genetic mutations will occasionally be selected by the environment, thus accounting for all evolutionary change and ‘progress.'” Rather, the first assumption of natural selection is that minds exist, and that these minds may encode truth with a thing called language, which may in turn cause “understanding” in another. In other words, the first principle of natural selection is that the export and import of words can rearrange a mind (whatever that is) and bring it into conformity with "truth."

But does natural selection explain the existence of truth, and how truth “sets one free” from illusion? Hardly. Again, that is a tacit presupposition borrowed entirely from Judeo-Christian metaphysics, not something that natural selection could ever explain. Or, if natural selection could explain it, there would be no reason to believe it, since it would reduce truth to genetics -- an absurdity, of course, but not beneath the small minds for whom tiny things always appear large.

Against the idea of evolution must be placed the parallel idea of involution, which, to a certain extent, is “evolution in reverse.” That is, the evolutionary “recovery” of spirit is preceded by a spiritual “involvement” in matter. Thus, we do not begin with matter and try to explain how it somehow came alive and began knowing its own truth. Rather, we begin at the true beginning -- the eternal beginning -- in which the ray of involution descends through various planes to the furthest reaches of the cosmos. In this view, matter may be thought of as “the end of the line,” or the nether region of the cosmos (although there are additional “lower” immaterial levels that needn’t detain us here). Evolution will involve the liberation of spirit from matter and the progressive reascent back to the One.

Now you may object to this metaphysics, but it is the only one that makes total sense of our experience, and it can only be refuted by your own arbitrary prejudice. It is not in any way counter to science. Rather, not only does science fit easily into this metaphysic, but it eliminates all of the absurdity and incoherence from the meager philosophy of scientism. No longer must we pass over various mysteries and enigmas in silence, such as the self-evident progress of evolution, the acquisition of speech, the ability to know truth and beauty, and the ability to “grow” in an unlimited way, both mentally and spiritually.

Now, with regard to spiritual practice, Sri Aurobindo discussed what he called the necessity of the “triple transformation,” that is, mental, vital (emotional) and physical. In the coming days I hope to show how compatible this is with Christianity, as some of you undoubtedly already realize. For example, when St. Paul says, “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,” he is clearly talking about the transformation of the mental, something most any spiritual practitioner has experienced. And the reason you have experienced it is that, of the three transformations, this is the “easiest,” since the mental substance is already quite light and malleable. You might say that it is very receptive to influences of all kinds from both above and below -- which, by the way, is one of the reasons why so many people believe so much nonsense. It's very easy to be an idiot, but not all that hard not to be, either.

Much more tricky is the transformation of the vital. We know it is tricky, because this is the realm that psychotherapy must generally contend with. Clearly, it is a “step down” from the mental, otherwise psychotherapy would consist simply of education: “oh, you believe that? That’s stupid. Just believe this instead.” Doesn’t work that way. For one thing, the vital is not oriented to truth in the way the mind is. Show an uncorrupted mind the truth and he will believe it. Not so the vital, which is much more incorrigible, and functions almost like a gravitational force to pull the mind down with it. In fact, for many people, their mind -- such as it is -- serves merely as a vehicle to rationalize the interests of the vital.

(I see that this post is going to have to serve as an introduction to a large topic, so that I can simply sketch out the overall plan. Each of these paragraphs could easily be expanded into the chapter of a book -- or an entire book -- so let me first finish the sketch, and we’ll fill in more details in subsequent posts.)

One of the most clear and concise books on this is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem. In it, he devotes a chapter to “Quieting the Vital,” which he describes as “the source of both great difficulty and great power; a source of difficulty because it tends to jam all the communications coming from outside or above, frantically opposing our efforts to silence the mind, bogging the consciousness down at its own level of petty occupations and interests; a source of power because it is the outcropping of the great force of life in us.”

Most of us have some idea of what it means to (at least partially) transform the vital, for by no means should spirituality involve denial of the emotions. There are many bad spiritual movements that attempt to do this, which amounts to repression of the vital, so that it remains in its untransformed state. But the trick is to transform the vital so that, like the mind, it is receptive to the higher truth that is trying to come down. Again, while this may sound unfamiliar to some, it shouldn’t. We all know the difference between coarse and subtle emotions. It is subtle emotion that may cause you, for example, to inexplicably cry upon reading a particular passage of scripture or hearing a certain musical passage that emanates from a higher plane. On the other end of the spectrum, what for me is always so immediately striking -- jarring, really -- is the coarse emotionality that radiates from a place like dailykos or huffingtonpost. The untransformed vital is palpable.

Moving next to the physical, this is even more intransigent and resistant to change than the vital. Many physical symptoms emanate from the vital, but those which emanate from the physical are of a different nature. As hinted at above, there is much in Christianity that indicates great concern with transformation -- or transfiguration -- of the physical, the most dense and resistant part of nature to the divine light and truth.

This latter transformation is the most difficult of all. Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “A time comes when after a long preparation of the mind and vital being, it becomes necessary to open also the physical nature. But when that happens very often the vital exaltation which can be very great when the experience is on its own plane, falls away and the obscure obstructive physical and gross material consciousness appears in its unrelieved inertia.” In another letter he writes, “All in the physical is persistent, obstinate, with a massive force of negation and inertia -- if it were not so, sadhana [spiritual practice] would be extremely cursory.”

Part of the problem is that the physical is more universal than particular. This is why the spiritual master who takes on the task of transforming the physical does something from which all human beings benefit. In fact, you might think of it as analogous, in its own way, to a great genius who makes a scientific discovery that benefits all of mankind. Let’s take the example of, oh, Jesus. Matthew 17 tells us that he took a few disciples to a mountain top and showed them what a transformed physical looks like: “and he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light.” And then a voice said “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

I should say. If transforming the physical is the last barrier to spiritual perfection, He should be pleased. (I'm guessing that if Jesus had resisted this process, he would have shattered into bits. Either that, or suffered the Father of all headaches.)

Coming at it from another angle, Sri Aurobindo writes, “At present the notation of the body and the physical consciousness has a very large determining power on the music made by the human harp of God; the notes we get from the spirit... from the greater life behind our physical life cannot come in freely, cannot develop their high, powerful and proper strain. This condition must be reversed; the body and physical consciousness must develop the habit of admitting and shaping themselves to these higher strains and not they, but the nobler parts of the nature must determine the music of our life and being.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when discordant notes result from our trying to play the Song Supreme on such a flawed instrument.

20 Comments:

Anonymous Curious George said...

A marvelous and sweeping post that indeed can only be an introduction to a vast subject.

You made a passing reference to "levels below the material" that "should not detain us right now."

However, I should indeed like to be detained right now--I would like to apprehend the whole spectrum from the highest to the absolute lowest at least once.

Can you help out here?

11/27/2006 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous cosanostradamus said...

The Grammar Police detected no typos.

Clearly the "brain-dead" phase has passed. The logjam has blown out, the river is freely flowing again. Let's jump in our kayaks and hit the rapids! Heads up, class IV ahead!

I love the 'involution' concept, which directly contradicts so much of the up-and-out nonsense that passes for spirituality these days. It clarifies a major purpose of our being here - to materialize the spiritual gift we've been given into the fabric of our daily lives. When Paul says, "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure..." he is admonishing us to sweat at bringing the ineffable right down to street level. If we don't do the work of bringing the light down into our clay pots, I don't think we deserve much attention from the Maker. That's not to say we can earn "salvation" on our own either, any more than a janitor could create nuclear fusion. But it does demand that once we recognize we have been switched on, it's our job to keep the power bill paid up.

Think we could talk Devo into a remake? -

Are we not men?
We are Invo!

11/27/2006 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Ben USN (Ret) said...

Uh, Bob?
This may sound odd, but can you contact me via e-mail?
I'm having (well, not me actually, the antiquated nightmare of MSNTV2) a problem posting.
But I have an idea.
It just might work too.

11/27/2006 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Ben--

I don't know your email -- please email me.

11/27/2006 01:06:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Anonymous - the "mentality of the West" and its aggression re a one world religion is a thing apart from esoteric Christianity, as Sri Aurobindo obviously understood.

11/27/2006 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Oops. Sorry, deleted him rather than getting sidetracked. Suffice it to say that the troll proves Aurobindo's point.

11/27/2006 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

I'm not sure if the physical body in the material world as it is presently constituted can ever fully accomodate the influx of Spirit, not without some difficulty. The process of transforming the body is literally "unnatural" - it's an "upward" pull in a gravitationally "downward" pull world.

I'm speculating here, but perhaps a "meet in the middle" process could take place, one in which the basic fabric of the universe, or at least our small section of it, itself undergoes a transformation. Our transformed physical bodies would then more readily accomodate to a new material reality - or if not transformed, would exist as fish out of water, sort of as those with transforming bodies do now.

Of course, a transforming material reality would involve considerable disturbance, just as a transforming physical body does. You know, disturbances like climate changes, quakes, tsunamis, etc.

11/27/2006 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Will--

A couple of parallel passages. Paul says,

"For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs until now... even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body."

And from Savitri:

And laid on the Spirit the burden of the flesh,
That Godhead's seed might flower in mindless Space

or

Mortality bear's ill the eternal's touch...
It meets the sons of God with death and pain

*****

So you may be right, but I say: live forever or die trying.

11/27/2006 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

What if there is some kind of say "virus" that prepares bodies to receive and incorporate a higher vibration, where bodies without the "virus" burn out too fast and die? Could explain mysterious kundalini-like illnesses...

11/27/2006 02:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NoMo here -- My previous comments on the quotes from Paul and Sri Aurobindo having been deleted by GB (I think I've been trollified), I would just suggest that we all take great care quoting the Bible. Many have gone far astray by losing context. Remember, a text without its context can be a pretext.

11/27/2006 02:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Joan of Argghh! said...

I'm just hoping that my spiritual body can fit into a size 8 toga. Otherwise, what's the point?
:)

But seriously, folks. There are times when the world can't contain the joy or sorrow that one soul can feel. I'd like to think that our celestial transformation will confirm that sense that there is so much--- more. More to feel, to expereience, to know.

Perhaps even the angels have their sorrows and regrets and the mind would boggle at how great a space such an emotion could occupy. But, then, the breadth of celestial peace and joy would certainly explain the beauty of a glorious sunrise. Not meaning to antropomorphize the weather, but the Bible says, "the Heavens do declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day after day it speaks, and night after night it imparts knowledge."

Why should our bodies do any less here or hereafter?

11/27/2006 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Ben usn (ret) said...

Sorry Bob, I don't know your email addy.
I'm sure it's here, but I can't find it.
Mine is Benster1962@webtv.net

Great post today!

11/27/2006 02:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Ben usn (ret) said...

My apologies to my fellow Bobbleheads expecting Benster's catch of the day...
O--k Naval biostory.
Unfortunately, MSNTV (aka webtv), is problematic, to say the least (ie unreliable, and doesn't work as advertised).
I have lost 2 installments to cyberhell, and 3 yesterday.
That's one reason why I'm usually pithy, because even my vaunted patience has a limit.
However, I do have a plan, and if it works (hey, I saw it on a cartoon once, so in theory it should, or was that a dream?) then I'll work extra hard to bring you the quality (or at least the quantity) programming you expect.
Thank you for your patience.

11/27/2006 03:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DESIDERATA


GO PLACIDLY AMID THE NOISE & HASTE, & REMEMBER WHAT peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull & ignorant; they too have their story. *** Avoid loud & aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain & bitter; for always there will be greater & lesser persons than yourself.

11/27/2006 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

I think also in Matthew (maybe Mark?), there is the scene of Jesus healing the blind man, one of the few if only instances where the miracle isn't effected right off - after the first attempt Jesus asks the man if he can see anything and the man says something to the effect of "I can see... sort of... but people look like moving trees", then Jesus tries again and then the man can see.

The point I've always taken from it was that healing the purely physical was just mechanics, but healing that symbolic union of soul and mind - the Eyes, even with divine assistance from above, it takes great effort to heal and see clearly. This also seems to smack of what Will mentioned as the need to "meet in the middle".

When your eyes are first opened, though you may see, it's very possible that you may not see clearly. You must continue with your soul healing even after it appears to have worked, and only in persisting, will true healing and vision be yours.

11/27/2006 10:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Ben USN (ret) said...

Excellent observations Van and Joan!
The battle/journey/seeking/knocking/growth/learning/molding/transformation
isn't a one time event.

11/27/2006 11:17:00 PM  
Blogger Gaude said...

"I’m guessing that for most people who have had “born again” experiences, it was obviously much deeper than a mere “change of mind,” like choosing to purchase one car over another. Rather, the whole point is that the experience is “earth shattering,” like an energy that penetrates through various sheaths of the being.

But then the energy withdraws again. Or it gets stuck. Or it is rejected and ignored altogether. Or something within the being systematically resists and repels it."

Like the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4: 13-20)?

In my own spiritual practice, it more or less goes: know the Good, do the Good, and then, feel the appropriate emotion from doing the Good (or not, b/c as we know doing the Good is sometimes very hard. It may take years for the proper reaction to kick in.)

Disciplining the fallen physical is by far the hardest.

11/28/2006 06:32:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Van- I think you're right on. Since the man was blind.. from birth was it? I think. A person blind from birth can't see... but its more than that, they don't understand seeing. They have no context wherein to connect visual things with ideas. First, I guess, Jesus makes his body whole, and then... his mind? Or soul?

Anyway, having repaired things often enough, I've found that no matter how well you repair something (or heal a wound) it is never truly 'like new'. It's always different.

But to make things new? That's not repairing. That's something entirely different. I guess it comes from the Spirit (above) rather than from matter (below.) Maybe?

I also agree about being careful about the context of Biblical verses.

11/28/2006 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

"Spiritual energy"? You mean my thoughts?

11/30/2006 08:02:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Energy could be defined as 'that which does work'.

Physically, Joules = Work = Energy.

Your thoughts are no more spiritual energy than words written on paper are physical energy.

12/04/2006 09:53:00 AM  

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