Pneumanauts & Vertical Adventurers
It is interesting that a fair number of my readers are Christians of the "unproblematic" variety -- that is, people who were simply raised Christian or who became Christian at a young age, and that was the end of their spiritual search -- if indeed it was a search at all. This is so far from my experience, that we might as well be living in parallel universes. Please, this is not a criticism. I often wish things could be so simple and straightforward for me. Not only did I feel as if I were on a search, but a frantic one -- shirttails on fire, looking for the water.
As I have mentioned before, it was only after my book was actually written and the manuscript submitted that I had a vivid moment -- think of Alec Gunness in Bridge On the River Kwai -- in which I exclaimed, "My God, what have I done?" Not only had I included some things that would needlessly alienate Christians -- and more traditionally religious people in general -- but at that very time, I had found myself being drawn to Christianity in a deeper way than had ever happened before. Thus, I had to rewrite much of the book in the space of a few short weeks.
I suppose I could reconstruct the timeline if I gave it some thought, but that's probably not important. I can, however, more or less reconstruct the exact sequence of books that opened my eyes to the "yogic depths" -- no offense -- of Christianity, and it was this: Inner Christianity --> A Different Christianity --> Gnosis (three volumes) --> Meditations on the Tarot.
I keep some of these books in the sidebar, in the permanent overmental liberary of foundational raccoomendations. In particular, Meditations strikes me as the last word in Christian hermeticism from a universalist Western perspective. I don't include Gnosis, because although Mouravieff is rooted in Eastern Orthodoxy, he's nevertheless rather unorthodox, as he gets into a lot of occult speculation that is closer to the spirit of Gurdjieff. Not that there's anything completely wrong with that, but at least for my taste, I find that universal precepts can be twisted too far in an idiosyncratic or personal way, so that the universal appeal is lost. I think one of the purposes of dogma is to channel the religious imagination within certain constraints, but it's always somewhat of a fine line between being a visionary and heretic.
Meditations may at times push the envelope, but in the end, I believe Anonymous achieves his goal of "vivifying the body" of tradition -- not by being "superior" to it, i.e., the "head" -- but by providing it with a "beating heart." He exemplifies the spirit that "interiorizes" as opposed to the letter which "exteriorizes." Someone such as a Rudolf Steiner has many deep and useful things to say about Christianity, but they are often couched in such a personal vision that they become problematic. They are too interior.
In fact, once I read Mouravieff -- who was strongly influenced by the early Fathers -- this spurred me to go back to the very beginnings of Christianity. I became fascinated with the question of exactly what transpired between the time of the death of Jesus and the elaboration of Christian theology. Originally, Christians didn't even call themselves Christians. Rather, that was a designation of the Roman authorities.
Early Christianity was markedly experiential, to say the least. It is critical to point out that a uniform doctrine only emerged with the first Council of Nicea in 325. It is rather difficult to imagine, but that means some three hundred years, during which time the followers of Jesus were having these pretty wild experiences with the Holy Spirit before they decided to try to get everyone on the same page. It's easy to forget, but the attempt to come up with a creed was definitely a case of O-->(k), not vice versa. In other words, in hindsight, we might look at dogma as something cold and inflexible, but at the time, it was thoroughly rooted in experience.
But once experience is "stored" in dogma, the trick is how to "unpack" it again. This was the main problem I had with Christianity as a child. You're just presented with this "finished product," which is essentially (k) about O -- that is to say, a kind of rigid formulation about ultimate reality. But what if I want to figure things out for myself? After all, this is what the first Christians did. The desert fathers didn't go to the library to learn about Christianity. Rather, they left civilization altogether, went out to the remote desert, and lived in caves in order to have a direct encounter with O.
Again, we can scarcely imagine. In fact, I'm not sure if we can imagine it at all. First of all, imagine the strength of the "call" to do something so radical. Why? What was the lure? Is there anything analogous in our day and age to such a wholehearted plunge into the mystery of being?
Well, yes, I suppose there is. I eventually found a number of important Christian figures who didn't so much initiate a "Christian-Vedanta dialogue" as become totally committed to exploring and living out the reality of their unity, including Swami Abhishiktananda (Fr. Henri LeSaux) and Fr. Bede Griffiths.
Interestingly, the desert fathers were not fundamentally dissimilar to the Vedantic seers who rejected the world as "maya," who wished to have a direct encounter with O, and who left us the Upanishads. Or look at it this way: don't flatter yourself, little Raccoon. The folks who had that kind of commitment -- to turn their back to the solid but illusory world in favor of an uncertain adventure into the ocean of consciousness -- have much more in common with each other than with you or I.
As I put it in One Cosmos, we owe much to "these inward explorers -- eccentric psychonauts mostly unfit for conventional existence, or simply unwilling to accept the slave wages of normality," who "identified a trap door into a vertical dimension," finding there "a return route to the forgotten country from which humans had set out Before the Beginning. Venturing across the Great Divide separating man from the incorruptible sphere of the gods, our virtual adventurers then found themselves pulled into the orbit of the Great Attractor, the very ground and goal of existence, the unseparate Source of all being, a mostly uninhabited region at the outskirts of consciousness, the Final, Absolute Reality where cosmos flowers into deity and Bang! you're divine."
Sri Krishna Prem, another westerner who left the comfort of the modern world to found an ashram in India in the 1920s, wrote that "the real purpose of all the ancient cosmogonies" is "to invite us to turn our gaze inwards to the source and origin of both the 'outer' universe of phenomena and of the 'inner' universe of consciousness, to find there the ever-present and eternal simultaneity of what is here seen as a flow of separate events in time; and above all, to fathom the ultimate mystery of our selfhood."
Flat out of time. To be continued.....