Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sea Slugs, Crushed Ants, Talking Dogs, and the Big Teamster in the Sky

So, continuing with the mysterious letter, David goes on to paraphrase a rabbi who said that "the reason we don't hear about God anymore is that there is no longer anyone who can bow low enough. This mental 'bowing,' i.e., ego subordination, is an important prerequisite.... Kandell of Columbia established through examining the neurons of sea slugs that learning involves actual physical changes in the brain. I'd like to recommend an exercise that may help carve new passageways necessary for certain relevant parts of your central nervous system to link up."

Okay. If it works for sea slugs....

"Even if you don't believe in the process, pretend a humble attitude toward Nature or whatever you perceive as the source of your spiritual urge to be. Deliberately assume an attitude of respectful, submissive attentiveness toward that part of your mind which emanates your desire for spiritual experience."

Humility? What are you implying?

"Another blockage of your emotional acceptance of the reality of God may be that your concept of It doesn't jibe with your common sense. You realize that a 'cosmic bellhop' doesn't exist but seem to believe that there's nothing too impressive about 'just' an extradimensional, supercomputational force that orders us to survive, reproduce and become aware of existence. This blasé attitude, which feels 'right' to you, is the cloud blocking the light. The fact that such a force exists at all is appropriate cause for strong feelings of awe and wonder. Don't be like the guy who visits the Talking Dog at the circus sideshow and emerges complaining that the dog wasn't that smart because it kept using 'ain't.'"

It's not that I thought the dog wasn't smart. I just thought he was being ironic.

"If you can't conjure up these emotions, again, try to fake 'em for awhile. However, if you can master the 'ego subordination trick,' the true nature of God will become clear enough (startlingly so, in fact) without my labored description. However, I can affirm that the seemingly irrational becomes rational when we truly and humbly accept it as an answer instead of a question -- i.e., that's just the way it is. The multidimensional becomes perceptually repackaged into a unified entity that the conscious mind can handle."

I see. We adapt to it, rather than vice versa. I'm O-->(k), He's O.

"God's a tricky devil sometimes. We ascribe values to some of Its aspects, but It often seems to have Its own agenda, sui generis, and about all we can do is accept that we only see part of the picture and go along for the ride. A truck, on its way to a diner, runs past two ants, crushing one, while the other survives. Can the survivor grasp that the reason his buddy died was because the driver wanted a cup of coffee? To stretch the metaphor a bit, if he can figure out that the truck is driven by Something, he's doing pretty well."

Alright. If I was understanding David correctly -- whom I never heard from again, because time slipped away and I just never wrote back -- I had to be as humble as an ant, be in awe of the Big Truck, and slowly change my brain like a sea slug. Where to begin?

As I said, I was influenced by Wilber's adage that one had to pick a particular path and stick with it. Today I'm not so sure about that, because in a way, it makes one "superior" to God. In other words, although I suppose it's better than a mixed up, new-age style "cafeteria" approach with which you assemble your own religion from the ground up, it's still a little bit like going to the "God store" and purchasing a religion off the rack. Imagine a big store with a Christianity department, a Jewish department, a Buddhist department, a Hindu department....

This is immediately problematic, because this is not the way religion operated in the past. Rather, you didn't really know about the big religious department store. You only had your own little general store that carried one name brand. As soon as one knows about the other brands, how does one avoid postmodern irony and cynicism? To be honest, this is still something I grapple with, and it's obvious to me that Schuon did as well, even though he tried his best to come up with a solution, which he called "the transcendent unity of religion."

Schuon found it inconceivable that God would operate in such a way that he would only care about the salvation of a small group, and abandon the rest to perdition. Therefore, a total revelation was given to each culture. On the surface, these diverse revelations exclude one another, but at their summit, they converge into a supraformal unity. However, one can never achieve the formless in the absence of a form, any more than one could sail the ocean without a vessel or compose transcendent music in the absence of immanent notes. Therefore -- and this is a subtle point -- formlessness is on the one hand "superior" to form, even while it is completely subservient to, and dependent upon, it.

Still... this seems like soph-deception. Human beings have a thirst for the Absolute. As soon as you suggest that there are "many" Absolutes -- just pick one -- it seems to defeat the purpose of the Absolute, doesn't it? It seems that Schuon was trying to find a way to "trick" the postmodern ego into unknowing what it knows all too well, for how can we really return to the innocent premodern dream of the One True Religion when we know about the others? How to put the truthpaste back in the tube?

Unless you just say that the other religions are all wrong, which you are certainly free to do. The Islamists believe this, as do "conservative Christians" -- which is why kooky leftists conflate the two. In reality, there is no danger of conservative Christians behaving like Islamists, but why is that? Because conservative Christians have been shaped by modernity, essentially by the live-and-let-live values of classical liberalism.

But... doesn't this lead to a situation in which people take religion seriously only because they don't take it seriously? This is how the left is. They value religious diversity not because they take religion seriously, but because they think it's a joke. This is why we have the ironic situation of liberals defending Mitt Romney from conservatives who are troubled by his Mormonism. To a liberal, it's all the same -- Mormonism, Wicca, Scientology, whatever. The only dangerous people are the ones who don't have an ironic view of religion -- who take it seriously. That's why it was important for JFK to essentially say, "yeah, I'm a Catholic, but don't worry, I don't take the Pope seriously. It's just an old family tradition, not something that actually guides my life."

So.... how did I go off on this tangent? I know -- somehow the baby is still sleeping, which provided the space for an unanticipated flight of reverie... or irreverie, depending on your point of view. It's 7:27, and usually he stirs by 7:00. He'll be awake any minute, and that will be the end of this post.

Anyway. What is a thoroughly ironicized, postmodern, space age-au-go-go guy to do with a strong religious impulse and no clear way to channel it? All blessed up with nograce to gno?

You know what this reminds me of? A poor fellow who has a traditional notion of gender roles and romance, and the impulse to idealize Woman. How does such a lad make his way through a contemporary landscape that so debases women as a result of feminism? One of the built-in ways for us to get over our narcissism is to fall in love with a kind of unattainable ideal that is idealized because unattainable. Or to put it another way, love is nurtured in the gap between desire and attainment. Eliminate that transitional space of human imagination, and we are reduced to animals.

Oops. He's up. I'll be back in a bit....

Then again, maybe not. Too late to get back in the groove. To be continued.

*****

The brilliant Lee Harris discusses the true meaning of an un-ironicized absolutist untouched by modernity.

25 Comments:

Blogger juliec said...

"How to put the truthpaste back in the tube?"

There you go again, summing up my point-of-view in one sentence. It's interesting about the humility/ sea slug posture; earlier this year, I tried meditation. I always start with a sitting position, legs crossed, relaxed and comfortable, After a while, though, I am usually (drawn? compelled?) inclined to assume something more akin to the child's pose, knees tucked under chest, head cradled in hands, and feeling very small. From this low position, I actually feel more in touch with O than I did sitting up.

7/12/2007 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous cosanostradamus said...

What is a thoroughly ironicized, postmodern, space age-au-go-go guy to do with a strong religious impulse and no clear way to channel it?

Here's how one guy did it.

7/12/2007 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous hoarhey said...

Mmmm, the gratitude you must feel for getting that guidance.
From your story it seems that the poignancy of what was written was somewhat lost on you at the time but that you had the wisdom to take it to heart.
Thanks for passing it on.

7/12/2007 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Alright. If I was understanding David correctly -- whom I never heard from again, because time slipped away and I just never wrote back..."

You stop to consider how many you've played 'David' to, who have never written back... but had their lives radically changed nonetheless?

wv:tsuzius - tidal wave of gods?

7/12/2007 01:43:00 PM  
Anonymous in other words said...

what Van said !!

7/12/2007 01:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

What Van said, me too.

7/12/2007 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

... or continuing that regression, consider how many people 'David' affected through you, with a single thoughtful response to someone he didn't really even know - and carrying that regression into the internet age, since it only takes one good connection to make huge ripples, and wonder how many such connections 'David' might have made over his life... then consider how many (sitemeter says 4,500 visits this week so far, with an average of 2+ minutes attention) a single One Cosmos post might affect, and ripple into over the next 5 to 10 years... the touchings of the invisible hand of the 'market place' on steroids.

Quickening anybody?

7/12/2007 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

... and to flog the thought one step further, think of all the times you didn't speak up at a gathering when someone floated some moonbatty comment - and wonder how many ripples didn't get started.

Make the Ripple's people, it matters... and you will never know just how much.

7/12/2007 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Bob, your biography is naturally of interest to us, but your expressions today of the details of your own transformation are just excellent.

Can't say much, as I'm deeply embedded in the "good times" that go along with the stomach flu, so I'll just mention the passage that jumped off the page at me:

"...the seemingly irrational becomes rational when we truly and humbly accept it as an answer instead of a question -- i.e., that's just the way it is. The multidimensional becomes perceptually repackaged into a unified entity that the conscious mind can handle."

I see. We adapt to it, rather than vice versa. I'm O-->(k), He's O."

That describes how it has been working for me, and ooooh, world's change!

The changes you write about are very "personal;" thank you for sharing them!

7/12/2007 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Yogin said...

On the subject of transcendent unity: Aurobindo noted this within the various strands of Yoga. If one pursues the yoga of works ardently, then the yoga of knowledge seems to be mastered concomittantly. In other words, they articulate towards the top, where you have a melding of works and knowledge.

Aurobindo places the yoga of devotion higher than the other two legs, but they nevertheless form a tripod shape when conjoined. Works, knowledge and devotion bleed into each other and in fact you get a transcendant unity (overmind)at the point of convergence.

Therefore, pick any leg, follow it well, and you'll pick up the other two automatically.

Any religion contains these same three legs, and at some point all religions will meld into unity as well (supermind).

7/12/2007 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Or to put it another way, love is nurtured in the gap between desire and attainment. Eliminate that transitional space of human imagination, and we are reduced to animals."

That applies to so many other areas as well, education comes to mind, and in general expecting a standard of behavior and self control which the leftie mindset removes heaven and earth to prevent in order to make life easier - and flatter - less gap, less idealization, less more.

7/12/2007 05:13:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Van,
"You stop to consider how many you've played 'David' to, who have never written back... but had their lives radically changed nonetheless?"

Funny, I was thinking along similar lines except wondering who David’s ‘David’ may have been.

7/12/2007 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Van said...
... and to flog the thought one step further, think of all the times you didn't speak up at a gathering when someone floated some moonbatty comment - and wonder how many ripples didn't get started.

Make the Ripple's people, it matters... and you will never know just how much."

Amen to that!
And even if you don't make a ripple in every moonbat meandering, ruffles are still fun.

7/12/2007 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Okay. If it works for sea slugs...."

I always wondered what those things were for...

Bob gnos Sailor Wisdom (TM).

wv: auezd (said the sea slug)

7/12/2007 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"You know what this reminds me of? A poor fellow who has a traditional notion of gender roles and romance, and the impulse to idealize Woman. How does such a lad make his way through a contemporary landscape that so debases women as a result of feminism? One of the built-in ways for us to get over our narcissism is to fall in love with a kind of unattainable ideal that is idealized because unattainable."

Uncanny!
It's like Bob was reading my mind, or my blog, which is now connected.
Throw in some time travel through the Eternal and voila!
Uncanny!

7/12/2007 06:33:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Can the survivor grasp that the reason his buddy died was because the driver wanted a cup of coffee?"

That's a good one to tell professional "victims"!

PV: "What kind of God would do that to me?"

Skully: "A God that wanted some coffee."

7/12/2007 06:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liberals defending Romney? Who?

7/12/2007 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Anyway. What is a thoroughly ironicized, postmodern, space age-au-go-go guy to do with a strong religious impulse and no clear way to channel it? All blessed up with nograce to gno?"

What you've been doin': aligning your self with Truth and wherever Truth leads.

We gno God is Absolute and we aren't, which is how the truthpaste got all over the bathroom sink to begin with.

So instead of trying to put it back, which, let's face it, isn't going to happen, we should follow the Manufacturer of the truthpaste.

A smorgasborg of Truth certainly isn't the same as New Age take whatever you want, because most times, people don't want the Truth.
It doesn't always taste good or feel good.

Not because it isn't good, but because we are used to non-nutritious junk science and junk religion.

But after awhile of eating Truth, it starts to taste better and makes us grow.

The Absolute actually grows within us if we continue to follow it, and the paradox becomes less and less important, or should I say less of a sticking point?

Like an inverted pyramid? Out through the in door?

It was clear just a minute ago, then I lost focus, so I dunno.
I'll be ponderin' this one for...well, for Eternity I suppose.

Be interesting to hear Will's thoughts on this.

Hey Will!
Hello? Where are you?

7/12/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Walt-
Hope and pray you feel better soon.

7/12/2007 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/12/2007 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

anonymous--

There's a liberal meme out there to the effect that traditional Christians who have misgivings about Mormonism are religious bigots.

7/12/2007 08:31:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Misgivings about Mormonism? Me?

But seriously, something tragic happened today that, for some reason, forces me to ask the question, "Does God need us?"

7/12/2007 09:27:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Nomo-
I would say yes, in a sense.
At least Juan Valdez, anyway.

7/13/2007 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

"However, one can never achieve the formless in the absence of a form, any more than one could sail the ocean without a vessel or compose transcendent music in the absence of immanent notes."

Very true. A less poetic but rather related example is languages. I use a couple of them on a daily basis, but my recent attempts to learn a little Japanese really drives home how foreign a foreign language can be. It is not just the sounds, either. There are things that can simply not be translated from one to another, you have to think the thought over from the start of the paragraph, if not from the start of the book.

Each language is internally complete: An English-speaker does not feel a deficit because he lacks some of the structures in Japanese, or the other way around. You can think deeply and describe your world well in any language. And yet you could let loose two professional translators on the same text and get amazingly different translations.

The "formless" thought is given "form" in the language, and the listener (and usually the speaker too) is unaware that there is a difference.

7/13/2007 06:04:00 AM  
Blogger gumshoe said...

"As I said, I was influenced by Wilber's adage that one had to pick a particular path and stick with it."


given the onslaught of the professionalization of anthropology,
(Joseph Campbell,anyone??)and its
"leveling of religious practice" and behaviors,the first comment i heard circulated that reflects
Wilber's comment is:
___________________________

"One cannot *practice*
a 'comparative religion'."
___________________________

ie..."studying religions" and "practicing *a* religion"
are not the same activity at all.

7/13/2007 08:40:00 AM  

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