Is the World a Symballa' Coonfusion?
Supposedly, practices such as Zen Buddhism help one to cut through all the symbolic fog we gradually accumulate, and which separates us from our essential being. Does it work? Not really. I suppose for a few, but probably no better than having a couple of drinks. I mean, if Buddhism were so great, Buddhist countries would be great places to live, would they not?
Hey, are we allowed to criticize other religions, or are only Judaism and Christianity tough enough to take it on the jaw?
I'm not suggesting that there is no wisdom in Buddhism, but let's be honest. Where would you rather live, Burma or the United States? America-hating intellectuals -- because they live in America -- have the freedom of hand-selecting this or that isolated element from Buddhism and using it to cast the West in a bad light. But if you consider the overall value system that emerged in Judeo-Christendom, I think you'll agree that it is vastly superior to that which developed anyplace else on earth, unless you're a self-hating leftist troll.
This is the problem I'm having so far with Wallace's Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness. I mean, it's an interesting book, and I'm sure he's correct about consciousness being the substrate of the material world rather than vice versa, but he's really got a bug up his asana with regard to the Catholic Church and with "fundamentalist" Christianity in general -- as if Buddhists came up with science and physics! Ironically, he teaches at the University of Santa Barbara, which happens to be one of those cities that was founded by bloodthirsty Catholics. Would he prefer that it be a colony of China?
As we have discussed before, true science only developed in one place and in one time in human history, and no place else: in the Christian west. There are well understood reasons why science didn't develop in Buddhist cultures -- for example, the belief that reality is ultimately "empty," or that the phenomenal world is (only) illusory, or that the key to life is to detach from thought rather than pursue it. In general, I find that there is too much of an emphasis on the internal world in Buddhism, which is why it often attracts people in the west that we would call schizoid or narcissistic. The intense focus on their own navel department is conducive to their pre-existing personality style, so they don't really grow with practice, they contract.
To a large extent, the same could be said of Hinduism as it historically developed, and from which Buddhism is just an offshoot anyway. However, a close reading of the Upanishads reveals that they do not actually countenance extreme detachment from the world, unless it is in the context of a paradoxical embrace of it: To darkness are they doomed who devote themselves only to life in the world, and to a greater darkness they who devote themselves only to meditation (Isha Upanishad). It's just another way of saying in the world, not of the world.
Interestingly, there is a strong parallel between Christianity and Sri Aurobindo's yoga, undoubtedly because he was snatched from India when he was just 7 years of age, and educated at some of the finest schools in England, including Cambridge, at a time when a liberal university education was still steeped in an appreciation of our western spiritual inheritance.
Nor, at the time, was there the supposed unbridgeable rift between science and religion that secular intellectuals like to play up today. For example, it is entirely possible that Aurobindo was taught by Alfred North Whitehead, who was a professor at Cambridge during the years Aurobindo was there, and the formidable Whitehead was obviously "on the case" when it came to integrating the most recent findings of science with an expansive metaphysical view that is easily compatible (with modifications) with Christianity (e.g., process theology). For the same reason, Aurobindo was readily able to assimilate science to Vedanta.
There is this shopworn cliché among western intellectuals that mankind has undergone three modern "traumas," or assaults to our dignity, from which we've never recovered -- as if the average person walks around crying because of them. First is the discovery of heliocentrism, which displaced the earth from the center to the periphery of the solar system; second was the discovery of natural selection, which meant that man had been here longer than 6,000 years, and descended from other animals; and third, the discovery and elaboration of the unconscious mind by Freud, which displaced man's ego from the center of his own being.
Ho hum. Are any Raccoons out there actually trembling over the idea of the big bang, or the genome, or the unconscious? Then you're not a Raccoon. Nor are you a Raccoon if you can't easily accommodate these and other ideas into your spiritual worldview, being that a Raccoon is in love with all forms of truth, which reflect various degrees of beauty in the Divine Mind. The discovery and assimilation of any truth always expands our being, as does love or beauty. Or else it wouldn't be truth. Blatant falsehoods, such the cold waters of leftism or atheism, necessarily cause shrinkage in the being of the testy folks who swim in them.
We could just as easily make up a narrative stating that these scientific developments were catastrophic to atheists, since they proved that the universe was created, that genes cannot account for the sudden emergence of our inexplicable humanness, and that the ego's narrow reason is ridiculously insufficient to give an account of reality.
We're getting sidetracked. Plus the baby's up. Be back in an hour or so, so we can discover the point of this post, if we ever do.
As Aurobindo remarked in a letter, "My own life and yoga have always been, since my coming to India, both this-worldly and other-worldly without any exclusiveness on either side.... I could make no sharp divorce or irreconcilable opposition between what I have called the two ends of existence and all that lies between them.... In my Yoga also I have found myself moved to include both worlds in my purview -- the spiritual and the material -- and to try to establish the Divine Consciousness and the Divine Power in men's hearts and earthly life...." Indeed, this unification of the interior and exterior worlds is what is meant by Integral Yoga, and this integration is certainly the purpose of Christianity as well: the Word became flesh so that the flesh might become Word, thereby spanning all the degrees of existence.
In another letter Aurobindo wrote of the Buddha's attitude toward life, that "I do not quite see how 'service to mankind' or any ideal of improvement of the world-existence can have been part of his aim, since to pass out of life into a transcendence was his object. His eightfold path was the means towards that end and not an aim in itself or indeed in any way an aim." Those who don't see Buddhism this way are usually thoroughly westernized minds who interpret Buddhism through an unconscious Judeo-Christian lens that they think they have rejected. It's the same reason why, for the most part, the only tolerant (and tolerable) Muslims are the Christianized ones living in the West.
Now, the world is not ultimately real, but it's still real. And the reason why it is real is that it is a projection -- or creation, if you like -- of the Absolute Real. It exists, in the words of Schuon, by virtue of the intrinsic infinitude of the Absolute, which necessarily "projects" into relativity and thereby produces both the world and the metacosmic "space" that we call the great "Raccoon Den" in the sky. If we rummage around that Den -- there, behind the big easy chair -- we see the various degrees of the Divine Essence, which ultimately come down to "Beyond-Being, creative Being, and the Spirit or the existentialating Logos which constitutes the divine Center of the total cosmos."
Again, in contrast to the implicit nihilism of Buddhism, "To say, out of a concern for transcendence, that the Absolute is 'beyond good and evil, beauty and ugliness,' can only mean one thing, namely that It is the Good in itself, Beauty in itself; it cannot mean that It is deprived of goodness or beauty."
But Bob, you never got around to answering your own question about whether reality is just reality, or a symbol of something else.
Hmm. I'm not so sure about that. I'll have to read the post.