Friday, March 17, 2006

Above and Beyond, the Call of Buddhi

One of the central influences on my thinking, the psychoanalyst W. R. Bion, wrote a book entitled Second Thoughts, published in 1968. In it, he republished various early essays he had written in the 1950's, but included extended commentary on them from the point of view of the mature Bion. In other words, the book consisted of a dialectic between two Bions, as he meditated on what he thought he knew at the time, what was implicit in what he had written, what was no longer valid, etc.

Every once in a while I am going to try reworking and editing something I've previously written on this blog. For one thing, as any writer knows, writing is not writing, Rather, writing is editing. Writing a blog does not afford you much of an opportunity for the latter, so it's not necessarily writing at all, but first-drafting, or thinking in public.

As an evolutionary traditionalist, I look at the various authentic revelations--in my case, I especially focus on Orthodox Christianity, neo-Vedanta, and Judaism--as vertical axes around which our minds may spiral and ascend. We need those immobile axes to serve as the fixed stars that provide both a space and a trajectory in which we may "reason" about divine things. Tradition is the space of the spaceless God.

Another important point is that a religious practice does not so much involve discovering new truths as it does rediscovering the old ones time and again. Because our consciousness is perpetually drawn down and out into the world of maya, we generally must counter that force by re-membering oursophs. Rhythm is a spiritual force-multiplier, which is why we must dwell daily on certain primordial truths and ideas that will deepen as we ascend the axis of tradition.

When we last entered the no-Spinoza zone, we were discussing the culmination of rationalism in the pivotal figure of Immanuel "Manny" Kant, who placed a bright line between the worlds of phenomena (the small world we pretend to know) and noumena (the larger world we can never know). For Kant, there was no way to escape our nervous system and "get at" the world, so to speak. As a result, to paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead, we end up with conjecture on one side (science), a dream on the other (religion and various post-Kantian idealistic philosophies). Or you could say that we are bequeathed an unavoidably divided and irrational world. On one side is that parallel looniverse known as the academic left, on the other side various atavistic religious systems that try to interpret the world as if the Enlightenment never happened.

But in truth, any such "bifurcationist" strategy that tries to horizontally divide one part of the world over and against another part will end in paradox and absurdity. For example, Whitehead noted that the Cartesian dualism of "thinking" vs. "extensive" substances--AKA, mind vs. matter--had resulted in "a complete muddle in scientific thought, in philosophic cosmology, and in epistemology." Not for nothing has philosophy been called "error on a grandiose scale," or "a route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing." It begins with false premises and therefore cannot help but end with false conclusions.

As the Jesuit philosopher of science Stanley Jaki explains it, philosophers are forever trying to get to second base before they have touched first. They start their analysis at second, but have no philosophy that can justify or explain how they have gotten there. For the presupposition of any philosophy is the belief that man can know truth, that he can encode this truth and place it in an object (for example, a book), and that this object can in turn cause a wondrous thing called understanding in the consciousness of another. Therefore, the first duty of a philosopher is to endorse the idea that knowledge may be embodied in objects and cause understanding in subjects. A miracle! True human knowing is a genuine miracle, but outside the explanatory paradigm of traditional metaphysics, it is an impossible miracle that no postmodern philosophy can explain. It is only because God expectorated a mirrorcle that we can be his spittin' image and know truth.

One may well ask, "What in the philosophy of deconstruction justifies such a process?" For speaking and writing the nonsense of deconstruction presupposes a reality that, whatever else it may be, is capable of encoding information and transmitting (mis)understanding--which is still a kind of understanding--from one mind to another. How is this possible? No purely materialistic philosophy can explain why objects are intelligible, any more than purely idealist philosophies can explain how ideas are embodied in objects.

Rather than beginning with the horizontal division of the world into phenomena and noumena or mind and matter, traditional metaphysics begins with the division between vertical and horizontal: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." It affirms a hierarchical order of the cosmos, in which the corporeal domain is considered only the lowest tier, outer shell, or "epidermis." The cosmos is regarded as a theophany infused with a logos, so that the visible and tangible things that unfold in time are a reflection of the atemporal realm above it. This is captured in the adage, "as above, so below."

Following this line of reasoning, human beings are not considered ancillary to a hostile or indifferent cosmos, but central to its structure and purpose. Man is a microcosmos that contains the same blueprint as the macrocosmos. It is because we are a microcosm that we are able to so unproblematically know--we are able to know the cosmos because it preexists in us. As the great third century Greek Father, Origen, put it, "Understand that you have within yourself, upon a small scale, a second universe: within you there is a sun, there is a moon, and there are also stars."

In the traditional view, the horizontal division of mind and matter (or phenomena/noumena) that results in paradox and absurdity is eliminated. However, there are vertical divisions that reveal a hierarchy of ontological degrees of reality, and corresponding ways to know them. There is not a tiny phenomenal island that we can know, surrounded by a limitless noumenal ocean that we can never know. Rather, we begin with the lowest level of being, material reality, which corresponds to our empirical, rational, scientific methods of exploring and describing it. True, there are degrees of understanding, but the process is much more analogous to comprehending a great work of art, say, one of Beethoven's symphonies. While the symphony will yield much deeper insights to the trained ear, that doesn't mean that the symphony available to our senses is simply the audible aspect of a noumenal symphony that we can never hear. The cosmos has degrees of withinness that only yield their secrets as we spiral up the axis of traditional metaphysics.

For what Kant called the noumena--the greater unKnown reality--is not behind but above. It is accessible to humans, but only through the proper means. Because the human intellect derives its light from the divine intellect, truth is bonded and underwritten by our nonlocal Sponsor. While it is true that all knowledge is in some sense participatory, that doesn't mean that knowledge is merely subjective--again, ours is an objective, hierarchical world susceptible to degrees of knowing. Knower and known are not divided but unified in the act of participatory knowing, so that the known universe is the universe. (Interestingly, Descartes obviously formulated his ideas at the peak of classical physics, since which time that paradigm has been toppled by quantum theory, which shows how thoroughly entangled consciousness is with the world, i.e., that it is impossible to draw an unambiguous line between knower and known in the probabilistic quantum world. And yet, no science describes the world more accurately and objectively than quantum physics.)

By ridding ourselves of horizontal dualism and returning to the real world of hierarchical oneness, the cosmos is no longer reduced to an incomprehensible and absurd material flatland devoid of intrinsic meaning. Truth may be known because man was made to know it. In fact, if someone tells you otherwise, you might ask them exactly what in their philosophy permits them to doubt that assertion? For their philosophy presupposes what it cannot justify: knowledge of truth and reality.

And if you really want to irritate them, you can tell them that, In the Chronological, Ontological, and Epistemological Beginning was (and is) the Word. That is, antecedent to anything else that might be said about the cosmos, it must fundamentally be composed of things capable of referring to other things, of things that point beyond themselves and convey messages and meanings. Even on a strictly mathematical basis, the fact is, quality must inhere in quantity, because ordering anything means that there must be a system whereby something can stand for, or refer to, something else. What are the beautiful equations that govern the Big Bang but words dwelling in matter, words spoken 13 billion years ago that we can unpack from matter and clearly hear today? Ah, quantum cosmology, the celestial song supreme!

Postmodernism offers only a factitious liberation from traditional ways of knowing the world. There is no way to get around the principle that the world is intelligible and that the mind is capable of knowing it. And once this is understood, it becomes clear that human consciousness is intrinsically related to the totality of being in a way that belies any postmodern superstition. There is a source of truth antecedent to man that is perceived not by the senses, but by the intellect. No, not that intellect, that horribly twisted and partial thing that is present in mere intellectuals. Rather, that miraculous capacity which lies a few degrees above the worldly intellect and within the heart: the nous, the buddhi, the psychic being.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Back in the Pink

Speaking Lies to the Powerless

Very little time to blog this morning. Have to bring my young 'un in for a hernia operation this morning. He had it done last August, but it came undone. Please pray for his, er, testicles.

Interesting piece this morning at American Digest, entitled "The Shame of New Orleans." It reminded me of one of Petey's infallible axioms, that liberals do not Speak Truth To Power. Rather, they Speak Lies to the Powerless, in order to keep them that way.

The execrable Spike Lee, speaker par excellence of lies to the powerless, has a new crockumentary coming out about hurricane Katrina. It includes the bombshell truth that it was the U.S. government that blew up the levees. "Here's the thing," says Spike, "Even today, a large part of the African-American community of New Orleans thinks that those levees were bombed. Now, whether that is true or not, that should not be discounted.... In the collective mind of African-Americans, it is not some science-fiction, hocus-pocus thing to say that the government is doing stuff," he continued. "Even if it didn't happen, you cannot discount it and dismiss it as 'Oh you people are crazy'."

Do you see the chain of illogic? Some blacks believe the levees were bombed; it doesn't matter whether or not it's true; in the "collective mind" of blacks it is true; belief in things that are untrue is neither science fiction nor hocus-pocus; it is an insult to suggest that people are crazy just because they believe their own delusions.

Is this not a perfect description of the liberal ghost dance? It is wrong to call liberalism an ideology. That would be a compliment. Rather, it is an emoteology. Since liberalism has been discredited, it has been reduced to attacking the very foundation of truth, which is what deconstruction, "diversity," and multiculturalism are all about. Truth is perception. Perception is reality. My reality is my truth. All truths are equally valid, but yours is a racist lie.

Thus, speaking lies to the powerless is not some kind of intellectual parlor game for liberals. It is the very key to their survival. For example, if they did not get 90% of the black vote, they would no longer be a viable party in something like twenty-six states. Speaking lies to the powerless is absolutely essential to keeping power in the hands of those who create the perception that blacks are powerless, helpless children. It's entirely circular. Trillions of dollars later, there is still no "exit strategy" for the War on Poverty.

Vanderleun writes that "A man of Spike Lee's stature and position should be ashamed to continue to inject the poison of conspiracy into the race issue in America today. But being ashamed didn't get Spike Lee his position and stature. Being shameless did. Weaving the big lies of contemporary race hustling into movies made Spike Lee what he is. It is working for him and there's no reason to think shame enters the picture."

Exactly. Like the Muslim Middle East, it is not that these are "shame cultures." Rather, they are shameless cultures. They should be ashamed, but they cannot tolerate their shame, because they have never learned to regulate it. So they project the experience of shame and convert it to aggression that seems to be coming from the outside. But that is preferable to having to feel it on the inside. Far preferable to live in a persecutory racist, sexist, and homophobic country than to have to deal with one's own painful internal feelings of shame, guilt, envy, inadequacy, whatever.

Vanderleun recognizes the unconscious self-deception. That is, "there is a deep shame associated with New Orleans and you won't see it any Spike Lee 'documentary,' or in any other dramatization of the event." He quotes the black intellectual Shelby Steele, who, in actually speaking hard truths to power, is disqualified from being an MSM-appointed "black leader" like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. He is not "authentically black," and he certainly isn't an example of diversity, since he doesn't think like Jackson or Sharpton or the New York Times.

Discussing New Orleans, Steele observes that "I think New Orleans shamed black America.... For generation after generation, New Orleans was full of human despair and backwardness. The flood just brought to the surface what had been there for so long, so we could see it on TV every night. And black America was truly shamed -- just ask blacks and they'll tell you. The whole world finally saw how hopeless and desperate the poorest blacks are. So then the question becomes, what do we do? Instead of saying what we should have said -- which is that this was an extraordinary wake-up call to black America, and we've got to make some profound changes in our way of life -- we said, 'George Bush is a racist.' Then we weren't shamed any more. He did it. He's the bad guy. He's the problem. And, once again, we're victims of white racism. We pulled out that old trustworthy excuse that has served us so well for 40 years. We blamed our problems on white people. And it works."

Exactly. Dysregulated shame means that shame cannot be tolerated. So it must be psychically converted to something else. But this can only happen with a whole panoply of cultural messengers that help create the illusion that the perception is the reality, that the lie is the truth. Steele goes on: "It doesn't matter that you've got a black mayor who's obviously incompetent. Bush is the fall guy because he's white. And no American politician ever asks black America what they're going to do. Whites just accept the excuses. That's why Bush is just going to dump a lot of money into New Orleans."

And that's the point, isn't it? Money is power. There are different ways of going about getting it. One way is to engage in what is called "activism." Another more direct way would be to engage in "economic activism," otherwise known as "work." But really, what could Al Sharpton actually do for a living? Jesse Jackson? Louis Farrakhan? Who would hire them? To do what? These are deeply dysfunctional people.

Blacks who point this out are excommunicated from blackdom. And whites who point it out are branded as racist. Vanderleun observes that to actually speak truth to the powerful race-baiting money machine would threaten "the vast bureaucracy and wall to wall entitlement programs that have been thrown up by the government over the decades to keep so many African Americans firmly inside of the Democratic Party's Plantation."

The race-obsessed liberal media constantly reminded us of "the color of the faces" of the residents of New Orleans. A couple weeks ago, when the story came out about how many of those residents defrauded the government that was trying to help them, not one story mentioned the color of the faces. Nor should they have. Instead, they only focused on the incompetence of the Bush administration. Thanks to the MSM, we already knew that Bush was a racist. But it's worse than that. Now the liberal media have discovered that he is hopelessly naive, for he actually trusts black people. Unlike the MSM and the rest of our liberal elites.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Rationalism, Adolescent Rebellion, and the Translogical Wisdom of the Fathers

You never know. I thought yesterday's post was going to be a little too "inside-baseball" to generate much interest, but there were so many intelligent and provocative comments. Not only was it apparently not too pedantic, but it seemed to touch a nerve in certain readers.

In fact, reader FFH thought we might have crossed a certain line into the realm of inside-beanball, or "extremely judgmental righteousness." FFH says "I know a little anger against what one considers evil is justified, but it seems to me there is a tone of Old Testament overreaction here aimed at one man we hardly know. He said some incendiary things, obviously, and in this extraordinary blog of yours we have a place to state our case, but to flay him so mercilessly seems a little ungodly to me. Do we really think God cares what we think of Him at every moment on our journey toward understanding? Can we not cut each other a little slack from time to time as we all stumble toward enlightenment, as God does for each of us?"

Yes and no. Although there is certainly no desire to hurt anyone's feelings, I personally don't believe in mincing words. Sometimes clarity can come off as arrogance or sadism, when it is simply clarity. Perhaps it is a matter of taste. I remember when going through my clinical training, I had to undergo a certain number of hours of personal analysis. Now, not only is psychoanalysis a diverse and far flung science, but its individual practitioners are quite varied as well. I was specifically interested in finding someone who was both brilliant but also on the more blunt end of the spectrum, someone who could "see through" me and not try to make me feel better in the short term. Assuming that the person is accurate in their perceptions, I always regarded this as a more elevated form of empathy. It is the difference between a friend who holds your hand and tells you that everything is going to be okay--even if it isn't--vs. someone who gives it to you straight and says, "it's your fault, and here's where you're messing up."

Ideas Have Consequences. If you haven't read that slim little volume (linked below), you really ought to, because it is one of the keystones of modern conservative thought. It is so pithy and so pregnant with implications, that I have probably read it a dozen times. It is just the kind of book I like--very unsaturated, leaving lots of space to engage your own imagination. Although I don't agree with every word of it, it's just so provocative in nailing the essential philosophical divide in our time, that I go back to it time and again for inspiration and clarity.

After all, if ideas didn't have consequences, there would be no need to get all excited about them. If leftists want to believe that men and women are identical, what's the big deal? If secular fundamentalists want to teach kooky materialist metaphysics dressed up as neo-Darwinism, why object? If the sophisticates at the New York Times believe that poverty and not bad values or absence of fathers causes crime, so what? If neo-Spinozean environmentalists want to say that the environment is God, who gives a hoot?

Now, I have no objection to Spinoza the person (or Benedict the person, for that matter). What I object to is his dangerous ideas. Even then, I should hasten to point out that, in his day, Spinoza undoubtedly represented an advance over what had come before. Remember a few days ago, I made the point that one of the key developments of modernity was the separation of the realms of religion, science, politics, and aesthetics. Prior to the enlightenment, those realms were thoroughly conflated--just like the Muslim Middle East today--so that the church wielded all kinds of inappropriate power over who was in charge or what people were free to discover with their intellect.

In fact, Spinoza was actually excommunicated from his orthodox Jewish community, presumably because of his heretical ideas, although no one knows for sure. I don't know much about 17th century Judaism, but it may have been quite intellectually stifling, much like the Catholicism of the day. So for someone to rebel against it may well have been a courageous thing to do. Looking at it from a world-psychohistorical standpoint, I see the Enlightenment as mankind's adolescence, as we rebel against mother and father God and move out on our own for the first time. This is obviously a vital and unavoidable stage in psychological development.

But all of us--well, some of us, anyway--know that adolescence is just a stage, not an endpoint. While the Islamic world awaits the day that it can leave its cognitive infancy behind and enter adolescence, the task of the West is a different one. We must leave the cognitive adolescence of secular rationalism behind and claim our full manhood, which involves a translogical synthesis of reason and revelation, science and spirit, vertical and horizontal, Adam and Evolution.

Thus, our dispute with pure rationalism as an overarching explanation is not just over the content of its ideas, but with the personal and psychohistorical stage from which those ideas arise. In this regard, it is critical to bear in mind that the great religious sages and saints of history are not illogical but translogical. It is not that they have abandoned worldly reason. Rather, they have transcended it. Reason is still entirely appropriate to the limited realm it addresses, but an entirely different form of reason applies to the supersensible world. Religions are metaphysical systems that use language in a very special way to disclose the hyperdimensional domain of Spirit and and to make it "present" to us.

But again, that will only happen if you raise your intellect up to religion, not drag religion down to ego-level pseudo-rationalism. This vulgar form of religion is undoubtedly what Spinoza and his ilk were objecting to. In fact, Spinoza is considered one of the first, if not the first, to introduce "higher criticism" to the study of the Bible, and to regard it simply as a historical document rather than a revealed one. Again, this undoubtedly had its place in the adolescent scheme of things, but it takes a grown man to get over one's adolescent rebellion and to realize that our parents weren't complete idiots--or how much uncannily luminous wisdom there is in scripture.

The Apostle Paul was fully aware of the translogical nature of his agenda, mentioning it time and again: "This is the wisdom we preach among the perfect, yet not the wisdom of this age nor of the leaders of this age, which will come to nothing. We preach the wisdom of God, mysterious and hidden, which was foreordained by God before all ages for our glory, a wisdom that none of the leaders of this age have ever known." At the time, that was a completely crazy thing to say, yet who could argue with it? Has not what passed for the wisdom of the first century sunk into oblivion, while Paul's divine folly continues to be proclaimed in every corner of the world? Who would have thought such a thing possible at the time? Only a madman, a fool for God. It is useless to try to understand the things of which Paul speaks with the lower consciousness of pure rationalism.

Thankfully, America's founders were in the mold of Paul rather than Spinoza. These were post-enlightenment men, and yet, they were men, nothing at all like the intoxicated and intemperate adolescents of the French Revolution--and most every other revolution since then. In holding firm to Judeo-Christian principles, they believed that they were obeying both reason and common sense. Who could have the audacity to call such men backwards or regressive, when these world-historical political avatars--and I use that term advisedly--still know more about us than we will ever know about them? They are still our primary defense against the adolescents of the ACLU and the secular Left. They saw them coming.

True philosophy (not academic philosophy, which is just an adolescent parlor game) depends on two variables: the depth of one's intelligence, and the source and value of one's information. Neither of these conditions may be reduced to rationalism, for "depth of intelligence" is not something subject to rational measurement, any more than depth of aesthetic vision is. And reason can only prove what follows from its premises, which may or may not be true. Moreover, some true premises are not necessarily arrived at rationally--certainly not in the case of supersensible knowledge or revealed wisdom. The rationalist is someone who reasons adequately in the world of phenomena, but who is closed off to the supralogical and transrational interior of the cosmos. Therefore, rationalism is by definition a false and partial metaphysic which will simply stamp the world in its own restricted form. This represents not a discovery of integral reality, but its foreclosure. At best, as the greatest rationalist, Kant, concluded, it can map the phenomena but cannot speak of the noumenon except to say that it exists (or "in-sists").

There is a story about Sri Aurobindo contained The Adventure of Consciousness, which is the best general summary of his philosophy (linked in the sidebar). I bring it up because Sri Aurobindo is widely considered to have been the greatest Hindu sage of modern times, in large measure because he had a thoroughly Western education and developed a translogical system that unified the vertical and horizontal:

"The day came when Sri Aurobindo had had enough of these intellectual gymnastics. Probably he had seen that one can continue indefinitely to amass knowledge and to read and read and to learn new languages, even all the languages in the world and all the books in the world, and yet not advance [spiritually] an inch.

"For the mind does not seek to know truly, though it seems to--it seeks to grind. Its need of knowledge is primarily a need of something to grind. And if perchance the machine were to come to a stop because the knowledge was found, it would quickly rise in revolt and find something new to grind, to have the pleasure of grinding and grinding: This is its function. That within us which seeks to know and to progress is not the mind but something behind it which makes use of it:

" 'The capital period of my intellectual development,' confided Sri Aurobindo to a disciple, 'was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone!'"

Of course, that was just the beginning of the Adventure, not the end.

Fatigue and Fuzzy Vision in the No-Spinoza Zone

Friends, this is a test of my blogging kung fu. Kung fu very weak today. If I ramble, you will forgive me. Last night, for whatever reason, His Majesty woke up every 45 minutes or so, leaving me a sadly depleted caricature of my normally buoyant self. It's not that I mind being tired. In pre-blogging days, I would have simply set the day aside to get myself caught up with tasks and responsibilities that only call upon the medulla, such as cleaning out the rain gutters, doing my taxes, or checking my entire body for skin tumors.

One thing about fatigue and illness. They do serve to reinforce the hyperdimensional nature of reality, for when we are sick or tired--at least for me--the higher dimensions sort of become eclipsed. The world collapses back down to its lowest representation, the material. In fact, one of the most painful aspects of chronic pain and illness--including mental illness---is that it tends to foreclose those higher dimensions, leaving us exiled in a flatland of mere physicality.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Sophisticated secularists are of the uniform belief that religiosity represents a lower order of thought, at best a quaint mythological way to represent our infantile hopes and wishes. But this could not be a greater distortion of the truth, for in reality, we must raise intellect up to religion, not lower religion down to our intellect. In order to do this, we must develop latent capacities that lay dormant in the psyche. In so doing, the familiar world we know with our senses is turned upside-down and inside-out, as we begin to see the higher in the lower. Time becomes space, in that mere duration is now experienced as the moving image of eternity. Faith becomes vision--literally.

It is not just a matter of knowing where to look, but how to look. Religions are supposed to provide structures in order to illuminate the spiritual facts of our experience. Like good scientific theories, they not only make sense of those facts, but also allow us to see new facts, in the same way that the paradigm of quantum physics allowed scientists to see an entirely new realm of phenomena that was invisible to them with the old Newtonian, mechanistic paradigm. The facts were there all along, but without a theory through which to look, no one saw them. Likewise, spiritual facts are all around and within us, but without a spiritual practice, they tend to go unnoticed. One might say that you should try to know God not because He exists, but so that He exists.

As I have mentioned before with regard to imagination, it has a positive and a negative connotation. In its negative sense, it involves abandoning ourselves to the idle machinery of the monkey mind. It is a kind of bad detachment from reality in favor of an infrahuman sub-reality. It is as much a closed circle as is mere cerebral intellectuality.

But imagination in its positive sense is absolutely vital for religious understanding. Again, imagination is the membrane that makes contact with the higher world. It is dangerous to try to understand religious truths in a merely rational way, because it reduces them to the mere known and undermines their function of bypassing the ego and vaulting us out of our conventional way of knowing.

Apparently, there are few people who understand what I'm talking about. But those who do understand, understand exactly what I'm talking about. How then to communicate with those who don't? To them it will just seem like irrational nonsense. One of the benefits of being this tired is that I can well understand where they're coming from. To a certain unavoidable extent--except perhaps in saints and avatars--the higher planes are somewhat state-dependent, no different, really, than the way in which morbid anxiety during a test might prevent one from accessing the information needed to pass the test.

Here again, this cannot be emphasized enough. We only bring a few vital tools with us as we approach the realm of spirit, and much of our spiritual practice has to do with honing these tools, in particular, imagination, attention and memory. Attention must become focussed and yet relaxed and fluid, while memory must begin to operate vertically, not just horizontally. To the extent that attention is fragmented and dispersed in the horizontal, it is doubtful that you will be able to recollect the vertical. This is what meditation and prayer are all about. They are the keys to the kingdom, but they are not ends in themselves. Rather, they are simply exercises: "verticalisthenics," as I call them.

Speaking of being misunderstood, reader Benedict S., a disciple of the philosopher Spinoza, is a case in point. He is trying to understand this blog through the lens of Spinoza's purely rational philosophy, which cannot be done without reducing it to an image of Spinozistic pantheism. I specifically reject any form of pantheism based not upon intellectual speculation, but upon objective metaphysics and personal experience. I'm sure that most readers who enjoy this blog would agree entirely with me.

I see no evidence that Spinoza had any personal acquaintance with the transcendent God, which is why he attempted to reduce the vertical to a simple horizontal oneness. In short, he engaged in a misguided search for the One through the application of reason, therefore taking him down the sterile road of cosmolatry. Like all wrong philosophies--no matter how brilliant--when they reduce reality to mere cerebral intellection they will be only faint shadows of the Real--adumbrations that are missing a few vital dimensions, because the higher reaches of thought lie outside any application of worldly Aristotelian logic.

Of me, Benedict writes that my recent entries stike him "as having been written by a relatively educated and erudite individual, but one who on some matters regards himself as a 'seeker'. (On others, Bob pretends to be a 'having founder,' but I'll save that for another day.) Bob speaks of the many different views of God that have been recorded by many different people, the early and modern Christians, the Buddhists, the Hindus, and (I suppose if I read all the way through) all the other people who have at one time or another 'seen God' as this or that apparition."

Do you see the problem here? To be a guest in the Cosmos and employ that condescending and passive-aggressive tone, with the use of "pretend" and "apparition"? I'm frankly not surprised that Petey got a little ticked off. Petey doesn't barge in to other people's blogs and bash Spinoza, although he could surely pick him apart if he felt like it. He's done it before. It is hardly as if we didn't encounter Mr. Spinoza on the way up, dwelling in the foothills of pure reason. How to communicate with such an individual? One cannot. One shouldn't even try, for one has already been dismissed as someone who pretends to see apparitions, or worse, someone who actually sees them. Either way, not a person to be taken seriously. I am clearly someone who lives in the no-Spinoza zone.

Benedict dismisses me as someone who is perhaps "not really interested in finding the absolute truth," which is presumably Spinoza'a metaphysically closed and circular rationalism. He says that I "speak off and on of [my] preference for the 'vertical' as opposed to the 'horizontal' life. [Bob] means by 'vertical' a looking upward in our mind's eye, searching as it were for Godness, as opposed to looking around horizontally in the world. My criticism of his method traces essentially to the horizontality of [Bob's] vertical look. By delving into the fuzziness of the ancient religions, and apparently trying to jibe them with his own in a detailed sort of way, [Bob] adds unnecessary complexity to his struggle. I would rather simply say, 'Those people were looking for God,' and then move on to a search focused more on the here-and-now. That's what [I] did years ago and wound up with Spinoza's God, an absolutely simple concept of the divine."

This such a beastly distortion. The only reason I am taking the time to correct it is because it was posted publicly on his blog. I do not "speak off and on of my preference for the vertical as opposed to the horizontal life." First, his impoverished definition of verticality demonstrates a complete lack of familiarity with how I use the term. Second, I specifically emphasize in all of my writing that reality has both a horizontal and vertical component, and that any comprehensive view of the world can ignore neither. The whole point is to live vertically in the horizontal--not to get lost in the horizontal wasteland of materialism, pantheism, or rationalism, but also not to pursue purely escapist spiritual programs that facilitate only vertical ascent without proper deference to the horizontal.

Benedict's contemptuous dismissal of religion ("maybe he's not really interested in finding the absolute truth") betrays only his (and Spinoza's) innocence of that to which religion refers. To the extent that religions appear "fuzzy" to him, that is an honest statement. However, it is not a statement about the object of his perception, but a statement about his distance from that object. Of course Truth appears fuzzy and simple from so far away.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bulletin: Humans Still Evolving, Leftists Left Behind

(This post is about the "new evidence" that human beings did not somehow stop evolving 100 or 200,000 years ago, but that evolution has been going on continuously. It just takes me a while to build up to that.)

I still remember my first psychotic patient during my pre-doctoral internship at Camarillo State Mental Hospital in California. Many schizophrenics love to pun. Well, that's probably not the right way to put it. In reality, they can't help punning, because they see all kinds of weird connections between things that you or I might miss. Plus they confuse symbols with what they refer to, so for many of them the world is just one giant, frightening, paranoid pun.

Anyway, he took one look at my name and blurted out "Godwin! Is that like a combination of God and Darwin?!"

Well, as a matter of fact... Even then, in the mid 1980's, I was working on ideas that would somehow unify the seemingly irreconcilable realms of science and spirit. For example, in my doctoral dissertation (completed in 1988) I tried to demonstrate how advances in modern psychoanalytic metapsychology mirrored the new scientific worldview that was emerging as a result of quantum physics and chaos theory (metapsychology simply involves one’s most general philosophical assumptions about the mind). To me, the underlying models and assumptions were so eerily similar that the connections were obvious. It was just a matter of pointing them out.

In this regard, creativity has much in common with schizophrenia. It's just that the schizophrenic exercises this creativity in a completely undisciplined way, and sees connections where none exist. Anyway, that's what my dissertation advisor gently advised me.

Just kidding there. Actually, I published my first two scholarly articles out of that dissertation, which, in many ways, remains as valid (or invalid) as anything I've ever written since then, even though I supposedly knew so much less back then. That is a story in itself, something I almost posted on yesterday--that is, how, with an intense and pure focus, we are seemingly able to tap into dimensions of knowledge that apparently exist outside of us, like platonic fields of pure logos. I truly believe that. The identical thing happened with regard to my spiritual practice. Eventually I reached a sort of very dramatic tipping point, where, instead of just putting data in, stuff began pouring out in what I still regard as a completely mysterious way. I never would have predicted it.

The portentous title of my dissertation was Psychoanalysis, Postmodern Physics, and the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution: Toward a Rapprochement of Mind and Nature. So you see, even then I was looking for unity--the unity of mind and nature.

There's also a pun in there, for "rapprochement" is a term of art in psychoanalysis, having to do with the infant's initial separation from the mother between the ages of 16 and 24 months, as he tries to negotiate the gap between himself and mother--between separation anxiety on one side and fear of, and desire for, merger on the other. Many things can go wrong developmentally during this subphase, as the infant is torn between becoming a separate person vs. reuniting with the primordial mother.

What I was hinting at in the title of my dissertation--and which I don’t think anyone else "got"--was that human beings collectively and historically struggled with this same fundamental developmental conflict, of individuation from the group vs. being swallowed up by the collective. If you only look, you see this dynamic throughout history, leading right up to the present day. It also happens to be one of the red threads that is implicit in almost everything I write, specifically, that human individualism is not the norm, but a very late historical development that only emerged on a mass scale in the West some 300 or 400 years ago. Human beings are fundamentally "groupish," and individual identity must be wrested and won from this more primordial matrix.

Clearly, this is one of the problems we are dealing with in the Muslim Middle East: can these cultures evolve to the point that they value the individual, and can therefore cope with democracy, liberty, and free enterprise, or must they always remain mired in a pseudo-religious primitive group mind?

I was later given an award for my dissertation and had to give a trembling little speech. I still have a copy of the speech tucked away in my dissertation. It just goes to show you that most of us really have just one Big Idea that we continue to rediscover over and over, because my book was simply a continuation and elaboration of many of the same themes. The speech goes a little like this:

“This dissertation is really a reflection of my own personal obsession, which happens to involve the mind, that is, the subjective internal world, and its relationship to the objective, physical universe.

“In our time, we are in the midst of a dramatic shift in the manner in which reality is to be understood.... And I’m not talking about the shift from Reagan to Bush. (That weak laugh line actually drew applause. I was still a leftist nut back then, as, apparently, was everyone else in the hall. A safe assumption when in the presence of a mob of psychologists.)

“In the three hundred years since the onset of the scientific revolution, science gradually came to regard everything in the universe--including ourselves--as mere machines.

“In this way of looking at things, the mind is completely superfluous, roughly analogous to the smoke emanating from a steam train.

“But there is within science a growing movement which is beginning to mount considerable evidence for the notion that, rather than thinking of material reality as fundamental, it is the evolutionary process which is the foundation of reality.

“What is so interesting is that these patterns of process seem to be woven into the very fabric of the universe, fractally recurring and cutting across all of the various levels we study--including human mental development.

“In other words, we are gradually seeing the picture emerging on every level of scientific inquiry--from physics to chemistry to biology to cosmology--that the mind is not some sort of accidental intruder in the world, but rather, the nonmaterial organizing principle supporting the whole enchilada.

“This general endeavor is called the Evolutionary Paradigm, or synthesis, and my study was simply an attempt to fully integrate psychoanalysis within this new framework.

“The appearance of life itself forces us to reconsider all of the reductionistic schemes and artificial boundaries we have invented to divide various domains such as mind and matter, animate and inanimate, physics and psychology.

“The great physicist Werner Heisenberg wrote that ‘The same organizing forces that have created nature in all its forms, are responsible for the structure of our soul, and likewise for our capacity to think.’

‘I believe that the evolutionary synthesis is nothing less than a grand new myth for our age, through which we may understand our place in the universe, our relationship to the totality.

“With our new understanding, we can truly say that the development of the cosmos culminates in an unbroken fashion in the thought of man.

“Anything short of this view, I think, ignores the irrefutable testimony of Life and Mind, and is unworthy of our true stature.”

We've gotten a little off track here, so this will probably have to be a two-parter. I haven't even gotten to my main point, which is the "new evidence" that human beings did not somehow stop evolving 100 or 200,000 years ago, but that evolution has been going on continuously: "Humans have continued to evolve throughout prehistory and perhaps to the present day, according to a new analysis of the genome reported last week.... So human nature may have evolved as well. If so, scientists and historians say, a fresh look at history may be in order. Evolutionary changes in the genome could help explain cultural traits that last over many generations as societies adapted to different local pressures."

They’re half-right. They still don’t know about the evolution of child-rearing and its effect on the type of adults produced in a given culture. Give them another 50 years or so.

Now get this: "Trying to explain cultural traits is, of course, a sensitive issue. The descriptions of national character common in the works of 19th-century historians were based on little more than prejudice. Together with unfounded notions of racial superiority they lent support to disastrous policies."

Of course trying to explain cultural traits is a sensitive issue, because it completely flies in the face of everything leftists hold sacred. Do you remember the fate of Charles Murray, a thoroughly good and decent man who had the audacity to hint at this in his infamous book, The Bell Curve? This is how you can tell liberals are phony. They mindlessly attack proponents of intelligent design, because it goes against their modern superstition of a godless universe. But if natural selection threatens one of their sacred superstitions--that all cultures are equal--then they viciously attack and smear the messenger.

To the Left, Charles Murray’s evidence was regarded as no different than that of the 19th century historians--a priori dismissed as "little more than prejudice" lending "support to disastrous policies." It will be interesting to see how the secular left will cope with this new evidence of continuous evolution and try to make it fit into their junk metaphysics.


Interestingly, the article implies that anti-Semites such as Hitler are half right about the Jews, in that they are different. The big difference is that, as a group, they are not less evolved but more evolved. In the end, I do not believe, as these researchers suggest, that the differences will prove to be genetic. Rather, I believe that the differences have to do with the scandalously humane way that Jews began treating their children--especially female children--hundreds and even thousands of years ago. This sharply set them apart from most other human groups, and naturally produced superior humans (on the average) and a superior culture, despite the most adverse external circumstances. However, I seriously doubt that this is encoded in the genes. For example, if Jews were to suddenly begin treating their children as barbarously as Muslims do throughout the Arab world, within a few generations they would be as backward, regressed, and primitve as they are. Evolution giveth, and evolution can taketh away.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sunday Bike Ride Up the Sacred Mountain

It’s Sunday. Anybody up for a little raid on the wild godhead? Okay, but before we leave, unknowculate your brain, make your resurrections in advance, and don’t forget your peaceport. And as we blestoff from the errport, be sure to leave your apprehensions behind, because you kant take ‘em with you. Not where we’re going.

One of the central tenets of Orthodox Christianity is that one cannot know God in his essence, only in his energies. Most of the great Christian fathers were apophatic to the core, meaning that the only unqualifiably true things that can be said of God have to do with what he is not.

In this regard, Christianity is perfectly in accord not only with perhaps the greatest Jewish theologian, Moses Maimonides, but with the Upanishads as well. The Upanishads say that ultimate reality, or brahman, has two faces, one that we can see, the other that we cannot. Nirguna brahman refers to God with attributes, while saguna brahman is the apophatic God beyond name and form, which no tongue has soiled and about which we can say nothing in the affirmative sense. It is jodo, the Pure Land of Zen, or ain sof, the ainsoferable gnosis all of Judaism--yes, old what's his G-D name.

In the esoteric approach to Christianity, there is the unknown Godhead that is beyond creation, beyond conception, and beyond being. It is this aspect of God that I attempted to convey as a sort of invocation at the beginning of my book, rendered here in a more poetic form:

.... nothing,
a formless void without mind or life,
a shadow spinning before the beginning over a silent static sea,
unlit altar of eternity, fathomless vortex of the Infinite Zero.
Darkest night, dreamless sleep:
Outside in. Spacetimematterenergy.
No beforeafter, nobodaddy, no mamafestation, nothing but neti.
One brahman deathless breathing breathless,
darkness visible the boundless all.
Unknown origin prior to time and space,
fount of all being, unborn thus undying,
beginning and end of all impossibility,
empty plenum and inexhaustible void.

Some people say that you cannot prove the existence of God, but this is not so. It is not as if God is on a continuum of probability. Rather, God either is or cannot be. Since God is the one thing that cannot not be, he obviously is. On the other hand, our existence is indeed problematic. How is it possible for us to exist? Now that is a mystery. Inexplicable, really. In the absence of He Who Is, it is frankly impossible.

Anyway, the God that absolutely is cannot be known discursively. He does not exist, and we are his children. And since he doesn’t exist, only He knows it. But to the extent that He does exist, He knows nothing about it. Anything short of this divine unKnowing, no matter how sublime, is the sage’s prison.

Continuing with my little invocation, I next tried to capture the emergence of God-with-attributes, as the primordial I is given birth from the primary matrix and patrix of Godlessness-without-attributes:

Who is?
A wake.
A lone.
Hallow, noumena!

Yes, we have it on excellent authority that God has a highly developed sense of humor, and, as it so happens, is a big Seinfeld fan. You might say that God is the ultimate guffah-ha! experience.

In philosophy, the “noumena” is Kant’s term for the unknowable ultimate reality behind appearances (actually, it should be “noumenon,” since by definition it cannot be plural). The world that we can know with our senses and categories is the phenomenal world. Thus, what we call “the world” is actually a form of our sensibility. That is not to say that it is unreal or just an idea in our head. However, it is to say that all we know about it consists of ideas in our head. Whatever it is outside our knowledge is by definition unknown to us. It is the unmapped land of the noumenon, hallowed be its namelessness.

Christianity speaks of a trinitarian God: father, son and holy ghost. This is not to say that Christianity is not monotheistic. Obviously it is. For one thing, most Christian mystics, such as Meister Eckhart, speak of a Godhead that is beyond the trinity. Thus, I would regard the trinity as saguna brahman, perhaps the last thing we can know about God before we surpass that mystery and know nothing at all in the pregnant silence of higher bewilderment.

Vedanta also speaks of a primordial trinity within the heart of saguna brahman: sat-chit-ananda, or Being, Consciousness (sometimes translated as “knowledge”), and Bliss. Interestingly, St. Augustine as well as certain Greek fathers designate the Christian trinity in a similar manner, as Being-Wisdom-Life.

In other words, it seems that as we ascend into the knowable God on this side of creation, we eventually come to a place of unalloyed being, pure consciousness, and boundless joy. Or so we have heard from the wise.

Here we are at the threshold of the unknowable God, the uncreated realm beyond being, “blissfully floating before the fleeting flickering universe, stork naked in brahma daynight, worshiping in oneder in a weecosmic womb with a pew.” Careful--take one more step and we are back to NOTHING, pure emptiness, a formless void without mind or life, a shadow spinning before the beginning....

Ahh, talk me back taddy, talk me way back, talk me way way way back, back to the beginning, back ones again by oursophs, back before our bigending, back before old nobodaddy commuted wholly matterimany, back before exhaling into a world of sorrow and ignorance, back where eternity pierces our presence, back where we always are, back at the still point of the churning whirl, way way back again, back unborn to the infinite father shore.

Hello, new man!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Watch, Pray, and Don't Mention My Book to the Rank and Foul

Before getting into today's post, I would like to mention how gratifying it has been to receive some of the positive comments from readers, both publicly and privately. It means a lot to me to know that a certain class of readers has somehow managed to stumble upon the blog, because I wasn't sure that such people existed prior to starting it. I am not embarrassed to say that my book will never sell many copies. That isn't why I wrote it. My only hope was that it would somehow reach those people who might benefit from it, both now and after I'm gone.

Given its unorthodox nature, it still amazes me that any publisher took on the project at all, but it was actually published by the very first one I sent it to. And even they--bless their hearts--expressed some misgivings about publishing a book that started in mid-sentence with a little psychotic fairy tale, used different fonts at the beginning and end, and had no proper endings for the individual chapters. I guess I've never told the story of how the book came to be. If you will indulge me for a moment, I think I'll relate that tale here, before getting into the substance of today's post. I wouldn't do so unless I thought it was more generally instructive about the way things work. You know, synchronicity, and all that.

Again, I wrote the book without ever giving a thought as to whether it would ever be published and who might do the publishing. I then read a book that had been put out by my eventual publisher, Paragon House. It was actually published by a small subdivision, an imprint called Omega Books. I noticed that the editor of Omega Books was a man named John White. Where did I know that name? Ah yes! I went to my bookshelf and pulled down an old book of his that I had read many years ago, an anthology entitled The Highest State of Consciousness (since then republished as What is Enlightenment?), which I probably purchased in the early 1980's, but was originally published in 1972. Anyway, I opened the book and noticed that White had dedicated the book to A.L.P. and H.C.E.

I suppose that most people wouldn't know who A.L.P. and H.C.E. were, but I surely did. They are Anna Livia Plurabelle and Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker of Finnegans Wake, the former representing the universal archetype of femininity, the latter representing the universal masculine. Like me, this man White was a fan of James Joyce's incomprehensible masterpiece Finnegans Wake! And of higher states of consciousness! Plus the book has a chapter about Sri Aurobindo. Surely he will appreciate my book, in particular, the Joycean prologue and epilogue that are modeled after Finnegans Wake. To put it another way, if he doesn't get it, that will be a pretty good indication that no on else will either.

So I stuck the manuscript in an envelope and promptly forgot about it. Six months later I get a profusely apologetic phone call from the man himself, deferentially treating me like the reincarnation of James Joyce. Of course I'll publish the book! If Paragon doesn't want it, I'll find a way to do it myself! He explained that I had sent the manuscript to the main office in Minnesota, but that he operates out of New Hampshire. Somehow it had been hung up in Minnesota all that time. He had just received the package, and I guess it's safe to say that to this day he remains my most enthusiastic supporter. He specifically mentioned that he was determined to publish the book even if no one else besides he and I got the metaphysical humor. (It turns out that White was Ken Wilber's first literary agent, and managed to get Wilber's first book, The Spectrum of Consciouness, published after something like twenty five rejections. That book, of course, went on the be a massive success, and made Wilber the 800 pound gorilla of the far-flung--including some things you'd like to fling far--world of consciousness studies.)

I don't know. The whole sequence of events still strikes me as pretty odd. Now I just noticed another weird synchronictiy. I'm thumbing through The Highest State of Consciousness, and I see at the end of the introduction White writes, "Man appears to be constructed in the manner of Yeats' intersecting gyres or as a miniature model of the doughnut-shaped Van Allen radiation belt surrounding our planet. A local vortex in a sea of energy.... The aura of mystics and the stylized halo of saints is then explainable" as a visible manifestation of spiritual purity, of "their lack of interfering vibrations from confused thought processes." Remember my inexplicable post last Sunday, "Is the Cosmos a Fractal Torus?" Until today, I had no idea that Yeats and White also thought so. And I thought I was eccentric. I'm not even original.

Anyway, one of the reasons why I can't imagine my book becoming hugely popular is that it's not the sort of thing that can ever spread like wildfire from hand to hand and mouth to mouth. That is, even if one person gets a lot out of the book, it is quite likely that they will not know a single individual in their life to whom they could unreservedly recommend it. I personally wouldn't think of recommending the book to most of the rank-and-file (not to mention the rank and foul) earthlings I know, whether friends, relatives, neighbors, or coworkers. If it comes up at all, I actually dissuade most people from reading it, because it's just not meant for everyone.

I joke about it, but the blog actually does get many more hits when I post about politics. However, the people who are drawn only to the politics would eventually be alienated anyway by the esotericism. One of the reasons why I enjoy the feedback is that it is a relief to know that there are others of Our Kind out there. After all, we are an odd breed. Clearly we are strangers wandering the debased secular world of infrahuman entertainment and pseudointellectual philosophical materialism. And although sympathetic with them, we are not fully comfortable in the world of the other half, either--the conventionally religious (this is not intended as a slight, just a matter of affinity). But we are frankly creeped out by the untraditionalists, the born-again pagans of the "new age" world, which largely consists of a marketing scam for magical thinking and self-aggrandizement.

So where do we fit in? We are Mr. and Missfits, condemned to wander the lonely desert of cyberspace with only the occasional virtual oasis dotting the infinite mindscape. I don't know about you, but I am relieved to know that there is even one other person similar to me. Then, at the very least, it's a folie a deux. Or should that be deus?

Reader Will--who is a scary example of someone who thinks just like me--highlighted what is actually at the foundation of the ancient Christian approach to spiritual growth (although they surely wouldn't have flattered themselves by calling it "growth"), that is, watchfulness. Watchfulness is the key to everything--I believe it is the very last instruction Jesus gives to his disciples before he is yanked up by the Roman machine. In the garden at Gethsemane, he clearly and unambiguously urges them--not parable style--to watch and pray. This statement may be interpreted as the last exoteric statement made by the living Jesus, while It is accomplished may be regarded as his last esoteric statement. They are unified in his very last recorded words in the Book of John, You follow me.

Will points out that interior watchfulness "is the key regarding the primary fight against evil. The New Testament, particularly Matthew, is replete with references to 'staying awake', which certainly in one context could be taken as a rejoinder to remain self-vigilant." Exactly. In this regard, esoteric Christian practices are extremely similar to Yoga and Buddhism, in that they aspire to achieve inner silence, stillness, and openness through the systematic practice of watchfulness. This actually represents true prayer according to Bishop Kallistos Ware:

"To achieve silence: this is of all things the hardest and the most decisive in art of prayer. Silence is not merely a negative--a pause between words, a temporary cessation of speech--but, properly understood, it is highly positive: an attitude of attentive alertness, of vigilance, and above all of listening. The man who has attained hesychia, inward stillness or silence, is par excellence the one who listens. He listens to the voice of prayer in his own heart, and he understands that this voice is not his but that of another speaking within him." Or, as I cryptically expressed it at the end of my book, "he who hesychasts is lost," meaning that you--your ego--must become lost in the silence of God.

Will adds that we must also "imagine" ourselves "into spiritual increase." This use of imagination is a term of art, not to be confused with the lower, dreamlike imagination. This lower form of imagination is somnolent, passive, and present in beasts. It is the opposite of "watch and pray." Much spiritual warfare specifically involves the struggle against this hypnotic state in which most human beings will spend their entire lives. The noetic use of imagination is oriented in a direction diametrically opposed to this, and involves actively gathering and assimilating forces and influences emanating from a higher world, not the lower one.

Will further points out that "we can expect a firestorm of resistance, which is what happens when we pick up the cross, or in Eastern terms, 'activate our karma'." Mind parasites that were "hitherto happy to remain in the unconscious where [they] could make us dance to [their] tune, rise to the surface and give us holy hell in one form or another. Ego wants full control again and it will do what it can to dismay, terrify, depress, cajole, flatter, even sympathize with us in an effort to seize the reins again. And at a certain point in the process, I think, we have to begin dealing with evil as universal archetype, not merely as a personalized set of failings. Any would-be pilgrim who harbors a romanticism re this quickening process is going to be 100% disabused of the notion."

Yes. This reminds me of a remark once made by my best teacher in graduate school, the esteemed Dr. Panajian. Someone asked if he recommended psychoanalysis for something or other. Dr. Panajian responded that he would not. "I only offer psychoanalysis. I would never recommend it."

Likewise, I would never recommend spiritual practice (or my book, for that matter). If they are meant for you, you will know it.

We end with another comment left by reader Rorschach regarding a painful relationship with an atheist friend of long-standing. As I have mentioned before, it is wrong to think of atheism as a non-spiritual belief system. In point of fact, obligatory atheism is definitely a spiritual state. It is nothing more and nothing less than a frank confession of ignorance of the higher planes of being. It serves no purpose whatsoever to get into an argument or debate with such an individual. They do not know because they cannot know. Just take their word for it and move on.

Rorschach points out that "He is not insane or evil; purely rational and honorable as a human being." No doubt true, but there is a particular form of madness that involves losing everything but one's reason (I forget who said that originally). Rorschach says that the essential dilemma is "fear falling in his esteem if I admit to honest belief in God." Here I can only refer you back to what was said above regarding watching, praying, and achieving inner silence. It is relatively easy to do this privately, much more difficult to maintain this zone of silence--the impregnable Interior Monastery--while in the world. This is what you must be able to do in the presence of your friend--to have a spiritual force field that simply repels his energies that will perpetually try to provoke your own mind parasites. He is an occasion for you to learn inner silence under in vivo conditions, while real bullets are flying.

Actually, we conclude with reader Sal, who made the excellent point that "sanctification is a lifelong affair--with the purgative, illuminative and unitive stages recurring cyclically." This is such a good point that I will probably have to leave it until tomorrow to expand upon, but this is exactly right. All spiritual practices may be ultimately reduced to the trinity of purification, illumination, and union. However, it is a mistake to think of it as a linear process. Rather, like that other trinity, it is a fractally recurring, upwardly spiraling pattern with each part inside the other parts. If you want to know the truth, if you could somehow represent it visually, it would look something like Yeats' intersecting gyres or as a miniature model of the doughnut-shaped Van Allen radiation belt surrounding our planet, something I didn't know until about half an hour ago. I'll explain more tomorrow. If anyone is still out there.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Autoexorcism, Neurosimplicity, and Seeking With One I Open (3.11.08)

Rather than get into an academic discussion of Eastern Orthodox practices, I think I'll just present my own understanding of spiritual warfare and show how much overlap there is with ancient Christianity. I've noticed that I tend to dry up when I don't just wing it and speak or write from my own experience. In fact, the decision to simply report my own uncensored thoughts has been instrumental in making blogging a much more enjoyable experience for me, while having the added benefit of driving readers away. Therefore, if I write something stupid or embarrassing, fewer people will know about it.

Plus, I don't intend to sound elitist, but frankly, the kind of spiritual practice we're talking about is plainly not for everyone. The Mysteries aren't intended to be vulgarized and dispensed to any yahoo with an open hand and empty head, regardless of merit or sincerity. And they certainly weren't meant to be eagerly groped and pawed over by the grubby fingers of new age barbarians who reduce the most sublime knowledge to its ego (or usually sub-ego) level equivalent.

History is littered with caricatures of spirit. I have in my hand a hideous but typical example, in the form of a catalog I received in the mail a couple of days ago from company called Sounds True. I bring this up not just for valid purposes of mockery and ridicule, but to emphasize that there is actually great spiritual danger in treating these matters so lightly. Explore Higher States of Consciousness with this In-Home Audio Training Series (do not try at home). The Mandala Healing Kit: Spark Your Sacred Geometry (for people who can't spark euclidean geometry). Loveland: Music For Dreaming and Awakening (Dreaming or awakening? Make up your mind!). The Advanced Manifestation Program: Upgrade the Way You Think--And Live (upgrade only works if you start off really stupid). Take Charge of Your Life at The Quantum Level (since you obviously can't deal with reality on this level). Explore Non-Ordinary Reality with the Wisdom Tool of the Shaman. (Bend over for that last one.)

The hucksters who propagate this debased nonsense have nothing whatsoever to do with authentic spirituality. They are poseurs and flatterers pretending to be as dense as their followers so their followers can feel as clever as them. A real teacher is more likely to drive you away than to make outrageous promises and ask for your money. This is why I usually recommend that people work within an established religious framework. Sure, it's less glamorous, like indexing instead of trying to find some exotic or risky way to beat the stock market. Yes, there are some people who can do that, and there are some spiritual practitioners who are able to operate outside the lines. But doing so requires an abundance of caution--not less discipline, but more. As Bob Dylan sang, to live outside the law, you must be honest. You must know your own limitations, because Reality will eventually bring you to heel. Me? As I have mentioned before, I flunked out of business school. Almost all of my investments are in index funds.

Ronald Reagan once said words to the effect that "the solutions are simple, but not simplistic." As a matter of fact, simple is hard. Complexity is easy. Most people are very complex, especially the intelligent ones. Their intelligence just gives them more skill at pulling the wool over their own eyes. People are full of unconscious wormholes, psychic envelopes, secret lives, hidden compulsions, ulterior motives, and auto-hypnotic delusions. They appear deep, but deep down they tend to be very shallow. For mysticism is nothing more than the art of living with one's whole being at a deeper level.

Macarius, a fourth century church father, discusses the problem of mind parasites weaving their way into the unconscious in a most vivid and arresting manner: "When the prince of wickedness and his angels burrow there, and make paths and thoroughfares there, on which the powers of Satan walk into your mind and thoughts, are you not in hell, a tomb, a sepulcher, a dead man towards God?"


Before we can enter the pneumatosphere, we must begin by clearly recognizing the hopelessly fragmented, dispersed and fallen situation we find ourselves in, and wishing sincerely to turn it around. Everything else depends upon this first recognition. It is, as written by Gregory Nazianzen, to realize that we are "an animal en route to another native land," "halfway between greatness and nothingness." Call it repentance, metanoia, or just plain disgust, but it is the beginning of the process of reorienting our life around an altogether different center of gravity. We begin to objectively observe our thoughts and emotions, which is the opening salvo of spiritual warfare. It is to formally declare war on the forces in your psyche that pull you down and drag you out, from the depth to the surface, from the center to the periphery.

Denys the Areopagite wrote that "the higher we ascend, the more our words are straitened by the fact that what we understand is seen more and more altogether in a unifying and simplifying way." As "reason ascends from the lower to the transcendent, the more it ascends the more it is contracted, and when it has completely ascended it will become completely speechless, and be totally united with the Inexpressible." From lower complexity to higher simplicity. True science--including spiritual science--is the reduction of multiplicity to unity.

Have you ever met a simple, straightforward person with no agenda? Someone who is honest, transparent, and grounded, and doesn't change from day to day, depending on their mood?

Achieving this is actually the preliminary spadework of spiritual practice. You might say that it is both alpha and omega, because it is both cause and outcome. To put it another way, it begins as an efficient cause but eventually becomes a final cause. You begin by pushing, but eventually you will feel yourself pulled. What might be called the "spiritual dynamic" involves a combination of our own ceaseless efforts and the recognition that our unaided efforts will get us nowhere. As Bishop Kallistos Ware writes, "without God's grace we can do nothing; but without our voluntary cooperation God will do nothing."

Here's one for you to ponder. Basil the Great, a fourth century church father, said "A mind which is not dispersed among external things, returns to itself, and from itself ascends to God by an unerring path." Was it not Matthew who wrote, "if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light"? Yes, if thine "I" be single, many felicitous things follow. Somehow, verticality is a function of centration, of getting all of your I's on the same page.

Just to show you how much overlap there is, I will leave you with a couple of quotes from Sri Aurobindo: "What we are now, or rather what we perceive as ourselves and so call, is only an ignorant partial and superficial formulation of our nature. It is not our whole self; it is not even our real self; it is a little representative personality.... There is a secret soul in us that is our true person.... to unveil that soul and that self is one of the most important movements of Yoga."

The lower mind consists mostly of "a customary crowd or round of sensations, desires, hopes, feelings, and satisfactions." Such a person "respects what belongs to the domain of mind mostly for its utility for the support, comfort, use, satisfaction and entertainment of his phsyical and sensational existence." He regards the higher as "a superfluous but pleasant luxury of imaginations, feelings and thought-abstractions, not as inner realities...."

But "Mind is a passage, not a culmination": "Destiny in the rigid sense applies only to the outer being so long as it lives in the Ignorance.... But as soon as one enters the path of spiritual life, this old predetermined destiny begins to recede. There comes in a new factor, the Divine Grace, the help of a higher Divine Force other than the force of Karma.... It is here that the hostile forces playing on the weaknesses of the past nature strive to prevent the rapidity of the progress and to postpone the fulfillment."

In short, while the initial task is to turn from complexity to simplicity, from fragmentation to unity, there are forces within us that naturally wish to preserve their prerogatives and maintain the status quo. Hence the need for spiritual warfare--for inner vigilance, for watchfulness, for facing oneself, for separating from those things that separate us from spirit, for building the Inner Citadel, more on which tomorrow since I'm out of time.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mano-a-Manotheism: Spiritual Warfare, Part 1.5

I had intended to get straight into some of the practical differences between ancient and modern Christianity. However, we had so many outstanding comments yesterday that I would first like to address them before formally declaring war on satan and discussing the ins and outs of spiritual warfare. Plus, I will have more time tomorrow than I do today for what is a rather large topic, that is, the practice of "unseen combat" that is is so central to Orthodox Christianity.

One of the things I find so intriguing about these practices is that they bear so much similarity to certain Vedantic practices that I have long embraced. I may have time to start the discussion today. We'll see how it goes. I've noticed that a post can only be so long before readers get a little intimidated and either skim it or read just the first and last paragraph. How do I know this? I don't. But Petey knows all. Don't try to fool him.

New contributor Will made a number of incisive points yesterday, some of which I already addressed in the comments. He also made a subtle point that is at the heart of my own overall cosmic ontology. With regard to the early church suppressing gnosticism and emphasizing dogma, reason and the intellect, he properly notes that this has hardly been a bad thing, especially when placed in its psychohistorical context. For surely, if you were alive at most any time prior to the
Enlightenment, you would not say that the world was primarily lacking in spiritual gnosis, but that what it most ached for was reason.

We, of course, take reason for granted, but it was a very long and painful time coming. And you may have noticed that it has still not arrived for large swaths of humanity. Ask yourself: what does the Islamic world most need in order to evolve? More people with their butts in the air, trying to hear the voice of God? Or might they benefit more from having a few people who have actually stably evolved into Piaget's stage of Formal Operations thinking? In other words, more people capable of abstract logic?

This same problem plagued India until quite recently. India is perhaps the most religious place on the planet, but its psychological and material progress were stymied for hundreds of years due to the absence of a rational theology that dealt equally with interior and exterior reality. Ever since the pivotal figure of Shankara in the early ninth century, India held to the idea that only interior reality was ultimately real, and that external reality represented maya, or illusion. They continued to be a dysfunctional country even after independence because of their immediate adoption of socialism, which is just a debased form of gnosis, as discussed by the philosopher Voegelin. But just look at the incredible power they have unleashed in the last decade or two by finally coming around to a philosophy of rational market principles. We are now seeing perhaps the most rapid and unprecedented transformation of a people in history, as they move from a subsistence economy to a wealth-creating machine.

Of course, now they may soon face the spiritual danger that the United States has been dealing with, especially over the past 50 years, that is, not poverty but abundance. The few pockets of true poverty that remain are mostly self-inflicted, and in any event, pose no existential threat to the United States. Abundance, however, is a different matter. It is very easy to dismiss the world as maya and spend your days meditating when life veritably sucks anyway. Much more difficult when faced with the infinite temptations of our horizontal pleasure dome.

The U.S. and India actually have much in common, as we are the most religious developed country, while India has always been the most religious country, period. (We're talking real religion here, not pseudo-religions such as Islam; as Will properly notes, Islam "is NOT part of the Judaic/Christian historical continuum" and does not in its present form fit in with the general progression of mankind; like Will, I believe that, at best, it embodies a psychohistorically earlier form of religiosity, like paganism--a necessary evil on the way to deeper understanding.)

It is easy for gnosis to exclude reason and for reason to eclipse gnosis. The trick is to balance them. This, of course, is exactly what Sri Aurobindo attempted to do. Having obtained a thoroughly modern education at Cambridge, he specifically tried to update Shankara and make Hindu metaphysics compatible with modernity. My own book is a humble (or grandiose... one of those two... I forget which) attempt to bring together reason and gnosis--not reduce one to the other, but to synthesize them at a higher level.

Will goes on to observe that "the world as a whole needs more reason. Reason and the intellect, after all, do hone individuality, which is a necessary step in the spiritual progression. We have to be separated from nature before we can return to it. Once our individuality is sharpened, once we are separated from the herd, then we can begin to explore the meaning of the One-ness, not as unconscious units of the herd, but as true, creative individuals--which is what, I believe, the Creator wants of us."

Here again, this is exactly my philosophy. As I have mentioned before, reality is One, but it is not a homogeneous one but a complex and hierarchical One. You cannot realize or recapture this One by devolving backwards, merging, and being swallowed up by the collective. This is the project of the Islamists. For them, life is too complex. Let's eliminate the complexity and recapture the oneness by traveling back, oh, say a millennium or so. That is the low way to unity. My way is the High Way. It means realizing unity at a higher level--not destroying complexity but embracing it and synthesizing it. Not ridding the world of science and reason, as the Islamists want to do, nor waging war on the spirit, as secular leftists are doing.

This is why the war on terror is fundamentally a two-front war: it is simultaneously a war on the vertical barbarians of islam and of the international left. This is why we see what might as well be a formal alliance between the left and the Islamists. The Islamists certainly recognize it and play that card for all it's worth.

Will also observed that "the wonderful thing is that the Christian scriptures contain both the exoteric and the esoteric--the gold of the esoteric is just under the surface, once one is ready for it. Hmm, almost as if it had been planned that way, you think?"

Indeed. This is one of the things that haunts my understanding of Christianity. Most people who come to Christianity presumably do so based upon hearing the story of the gospels and having a sort of spiritual "a ha" experience that more or less falls under the heading of being "born again." But for me it has been the opposite path. That is, I was not initially attracted to the literal component at all, but was increasingly astonished by the sophisticated intellectual and metaphysical teaching.

But this raises an interesting issue that I continue to grapple with. That is, to my everlasting surprise, I have discovered in Christianity this incredible penumbra of Truth. You know what a penumbra is, right? When you look at an eclipse, it's the area of illumination around the circle of darkness, as the moon covers the sun. In other words, I am discovering this profound penumbra of Truth, but where is it coming from? What is that Light behind the dark circle in the middle? Now that is a mystery, because it is obviously the risen Jesus. How can the penumbra be true but its source be false? The lower intellect cannot resolve this problem. It can only make one side or the other go away.

With regard to dogma, Brother Bartleby notes that "the early Church had to face what every organization has to face, becoming organized. You read it in Paul's letters: how do you gather a group of folks and maintain some sort of cohesion? The Church took the easy out--dogma. It was their only way to get all the scattered bishops onto the same page, for without oversight, they were all teaching their own brand of Christianity."

True, the early fathers may have been scrambling for some sense of unity to which all Christians could assent. But still, their efforts were pretty impressive. This is one of the key beliefs of Orthodoxy--that the early fathers and councils were divinely inspired in what they accepted and rejected, and how they worked out the theological problems implicit in the diversity of scripture. Remember, one cannot in reality just look to the New Testament, as Protestants do, and say that everything else, such as belief in the trinity, is "extra-biblical." For in reality, the Bible is extra-Biblical! Even by the time it was written, many theological decisions had already been made by the church, and certainly its canonization was purely the church's doing. What is so remarkable is not what they got wrong, but how much they got right.

It reminds me of the many reissued CDs such as The Beatles Anthology that contain all of the alternate takes and remixes that are clearly inferior to what was released at the time. Almost never does an alternate version equal the official release, even though the artists and producers were pressed for time and simply making decisions "on the fly" in order to get the product to market. Even there, it is as if such aesthetic decisions are "guided" by unseen hands.

Brother Bartleby makes a valid point that "today we all have access to more of the early writings than even the early bishops had. And we can read. And we can think. And I think we can come to Jesus in a way that organizations cannot duplicate, we can come to Him in ways that the apostles came to Him... I think the days of the church as enforcer of dogma have passed, it is just that the word hasn't got out yet."

While I strongly agree with the spirit of what Brother Bartleby is saying, I have also gradually come to a much greater respect for our spiritual forebears, and would now be very cautious about simply assuming that I know better. I don't think it's a matter of either/or, but balance. I liken it to jazz, where the "dogma" of intense discipline and fidelity to tradition leads to a higher level of "spontaneous composition" in the form of improvisation. Improvisation does not occur as a result of eliminating form, but internalizing it and creatively "playing" with it.

Finally, Nick observes that "one of the main distinctions between orthodox and esoteric Christianity has always been the existence or otherwise of the historical Jesus. Some esotericists and historians... felt that the life of Christ is predominantly allegorical and therefore we need not insist on the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth. This is my position also, and one that has prevented me having any active involvement in the Anglican church in which I grew up. There is not one single wing of the church of any denomination that allows for strict allegorical interpretation of scripture, and hence this excludes a significant number of seekers from any participation in the church."

I'm running short on time here. I would simply reemphasize the existence of that darn penumbra--pentecostalumbra?--alluded to above. I might add that I now regard literalism in a rather different light which I have touched on in recent weeks. That is, I believe the literal component of Christianity is vital, not just for reasons of dogma and continuity, but because it engages a very different part of our mind that transcends ordinary reason. This actually encompasses the larger portion of our mind, which does not obey the dictates of Aristotelian logic, but instead operates along the lines of what is called symmetrical logic. Assent to literalism can actually be a wonderful liberation into the domain of symmetrical logic. In short, these literal beliefs may not be so much informational as transformational. So I don't have a big problem with literalism. Just don't take me literally when I say that.

Well, I've run out of time. More on spiritual warfare tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Hand to Hand Combat Without Hands, Part One

I've been feeling so nauseous that I forget where we are in the cosmos. Something having to do with Christianity--whether it is simply a black and white matter of salvation resulting from belief in a certain doctrine, or whether it is actually more complicated than that. Specifically, whether Christianity might represent a "vertical" path with degrees of realization ending in mystical union.

The version of Christianity that most of us are introduced to as children is generally the former variety. While no doubt fine for many--again, I am by no means denigrating the person of humble and sincere faith--I remember having serious misgivings about it as soon as I began attending Sunday school at the age of five or so. Instead of providing me with religious instruction, as my mother intended, it had the practical effect of turning me into perhaps the world's youngest atheist. As it so happened, the certainty of my atheism only relented somewhat when the Beatles began publicizing their interest in transcendental meditation in 1967-68, when I was 11 or 12. This left an indelible impression on me. Finally I was hearing something, however vulgar and garbled, that spoke to me about the vertical. Even as a young gagboy, I was especially impressed that the most famous and powerful cultural figures of the 20th century--people whom I idealized as gods--should (apparently, anyway) so quickly see through the illusory trap of wealth and fame, and want to devote their lives to something higher and deeper.

Just as an aside, it shows you the importance of the public behavior of famous people. It doesn't matter what celebrities do in their private lives, so long as we don't know about it, but if they would only conduct themselves with dignity and nobility in public, as they once did, it would undoubtedly have a positive effect on the people who look up to them, even if the celebrity in question is a rotten hypocrite. People do need positive role models--people to look up to--even if the role models secretly have feet of clay. Now the only lesson taught by celebrities is "don't be a hypocrite. Be the authentically selfish and narcissistic bastard you really are, for all the world to see."

At any rate, I had an early metaphysical template that revolved around anti-Christianity, atheism, and infatuation with most any nonwestern form of spirituality, so long as it did not involve God. Slowly, as I began to immerse myself in the study of what is called the "perennial philosophy"--the idea that each religion represents a different path ascending to the same destination--I began to see how Christianity might fit in. But still, I generally regarded it as a needlessly mythological and inferior representation of the more pure metaphysics of the East.

I don't remember exactly when it was, but it was probably only about six or seven years ago that I really began to turn this around. I won't bore you with all the details, but something in (or out of) me told me that I had to study Christianity from the very ground up. Instead of beginning with the watered down gruel that we are given in the 20th century and working backward, I needed to go back to the very beginning and find out how it all came about.

I was especially fascinated with the period between Jesus' death in approximately 33 AD and the official establishment of Christianity as a state religion some 300 years later. 300 years is a very long time. Exactly what did the earliest Christians believe? Why did they believe it? What were their practices? Was this a secret mystery cult with esoteric techniques of spiritual transformation? Why did they happily dance and sing on their way to being tortured and slaughtered by the Romans? Most mysteriously, exactly how did it come to pass that a fringe movement that should have ended with Jesus' anonymous and ignominious death eventually spread like wildfire and conquer the most powerful empire on the planet? That doesn't just happen. And yet, he said it would happen--that his words would somehow be preached in every corner of the earth. If you were alive at the time, you would have said that the chances of this happening would be no higher than zero.

Catholicism generally takes its bearings from Augustine, in the sense that everything before leads up to him and everything after flows from him. But he's already into the fifth century--he died in 430. That's 400 years from the death of Jesus. As most people know, the original Christian church eventually split in half by the year 1000 or so, into its Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox varieties. But in reality, the basis of that split was present much, much earlier than that, really from the very beginning. For the sake of time, I'm going to oversimplify here, but the differences can be detected almost from the very outset, and by the time of Augustine they were quite marked. And I would define those differences, in the broadest sense, as being exterior vs. interior, horizontal vs. vertical, and mystical/gnostic (in its non-heretical sense) vs. intellectual/theological.

This is not to say that the East was free of dogma and the West free of gnosis--only to highlight a certain emphasis, or inflection, that has maintained itself to this day. In fact, I would suggest that the later Protestant rebellion was at bottom an attempt to recapture the religious immediacy and intensity that had been de-emphasized by the Western church. They weren't seeking less intensity but a more intense religious experience that seemed to be denied them by dogma, corruption, and authority.

Although there is naturally much overlap, the East tends to look to a very different set of church fathers than the West, and by the fifth century we see a pretty clear split between the rational theology of Augustine and the mystical theology of the great Denys the Areopagite, a central figure through which all later Christian mysticism runs.

Interestingly, in the Eastern rite, what are called the "sacraments" in the West are referred to as "the mysteries." Now, I may well be treading on thin ice here, getting into something about which I am unqualified to speak, and I would certainly welcome our dear reader, Dilys, to correct me if the mood strikes her. But I believe in the East it is fair to say that there is a de-emphasis on the atonement theory--of Jesus simply being a substitute sacrifice for your own sorry hide--and more of an emphasis on what is called theosis, or the realization of the two perfected natures in the individual, in the fashion of Jesus. This is not to meddle with the basic idea of salvation of the believer, only to emphasize that it is possible on this side of manifestation to realize the higher possibilities that salvation intrinsically entails. Grace is still freely given and cannot be manufactured by any worldly techniques. However, there are things we can do to "get out of the way" and therefore "amplify" the grace that is already present.

Upon Jesus' death, it is said that the veil of the temple was rent vertically from top to bottom. In ancient Judaism, there was a veil that separated the "holiest of holies," the formless, inexpressible mystery of God, from the faithful. Only the high priest could traverse that boundary and confront the mystery of mysteries. But if that veil was rent upon Jesus' death, the implication is that it is now somehow accessible to all of us.

Importantly, it does not mean that there isn't still a sharp distinction between this and that side of the ultimate mystery. It just means exactly what it says--that a certain veil has been removed. One still has to know how to enter it. That is what spiritual combat is all about, which I had hoped to discuss today, but which will have to wait until tomorrow. And please bear in mind that I will only be discussing these matters in the most general sense, because they are not things to be treated causally, nor are they to be indiscriminately tossed out to all and sundry. No, you are not a swine. But you know the cyber-swine are out there, and you know what they do with pearls. What I hope to do is simply throw out a rope for others to pick up if they are truly called to do so. Under the circumstances it would be highly inappropriate for me to do more than that.