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