Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is the World a Symballa' Coonfusion?

Is reality just reality, or is it a symbol of something else? To make it even more personal, are you just you, or do you symbolize something?

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.

28 Comments:

Blogger Robin Starfish said...

".... 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...."

Ghost Dance
comes don coyote
once in a hundred lifetimes
his dulcinea

10/10/2007 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"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."

A hearty Yep!, ahem... but my position as Defender of the Western Tradition, and infrequent adorer of hyphens impels me to amend it to:

Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christendom

10/10/2007 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

“Are any Raccoons out there actually trembling over the idea of the big bang, or the genome, or the unconscious?”

Hum-te-dum dum-te-da [walking along minding my own business, when all of a sudden…] BIG BANG!!!
Yikes!
Hmm… ahh… heh.
Hum-te-dum dum-te-da [walking along minding my own business]

wv:terhbb - nah tigger, not so terribible at all

10/10/2007 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

"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. "

Perhaps not coincidentally, that's exactly the narrative that's been used for thousands of years to justify belief in the existence of deities. It still suffers the same logical flaws, which I'm sure you're aware of and unconcerned with since the existence of a deity is obvious to you.

I like the value system that has emerged in the West just fine, for the most part, but I'm not sure about the fairness of your criticism. Sure, I'd rather live in the US than Burma, but I'd also rather live in Japan than Kenya. I can't think of an Islamic country I'd prefer to live in.

You might try comparing religious to nonreligious democracies. Of course, that might not lead to the conclusion you desire.

http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v12n03_are_religious_societies_healthier.html

10/10/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v12n03_are_religious_societies_healthier.html

Sorry about the truncated link.

10/10/2007 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

It's here, for what it's worth.

10/10/2007 10:59:00 AM  
Anonymous cousin dupree said...

CL, that's just stupid. I can assure you that no one used big bang cosmology, the genome, or the unconscious mind to justify a belief in deities "thousands of years ago."

And would you have preferred to live in imperial Japan prior to their having been Christianized after the A-bomb?

And the US is the most religious democracy in the world, so I don't understand your point.

10/10/2007 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

No, they were using the fact that what they knew didn't entirely explain what they saw to justify belief in deities. If you assert that genes cannot explain our "humanness", then fall back on the explanation that our humanness must be caused by a deity, you're using exactly the same argument of ancients who didn't understand the sun.

Japan hasn't been Christianized. It's secular, but the primary religions there are Buddhism and Shintoism. Also, I'd point out that Imperial Japan wasn't a democracy, which may be a better indicator of whether a nation is a pleasant place to live than whether it's Christian-dominated.

Yes, the US is the most religious democracy. Of the democracies, there are arguments that the US is not the best place to live, which is what the link indicates. Comparing lifestyle in the US to lifestyle in third-world countries is a sham argument.

Thanks for the correction, Van.

10/10/2007 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous cousin dupree said...

Ah, skepticism, the exaltation of the lower mind's bovine ability to doubt anything except doubt. A philosophy of stupidity, since its content is zero.

10/10/2007 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous cousin dupree said...

Japan has been Christianized, doofus, in that Christians intervened in their history and imposed things like liberty, democracy, and free markets, which have never spontaneously arisen in Buddhist countries.

10/10/2007 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous cousin dupree said...

CL, that is the dopiest study I've read in a long time. There are more methodological flaws in it than I could possibly take the time to explain to you. But at least it demonstrates how there is no relationship between intelligence and wisdom.

10/10/2007 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

For Van, in his spare time: The Historic Significance of Atlas Shrugged.

10/10/2007 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

"shrinkage in the being of the testy folks who swim in them."

With such clever rejoinders as "doofus" and "bovine", it's pretty clear who's testy.

10/10/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

The question is not who's testy but whose are shrunken.

10/10/2007 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

hehe.

The closest thing to a free market that ever happened there was apathy. And that was in China after the fall (more or less) of its empire. Ideas are important and in fact, shape the way we see the world and what questions we are able to ask (which is the basis of science - a method to get answers for our questions. But we have to HAVE those questions first.)

If nothing else, the lives of the saints should inspire us to create and maintain the fairest and best nation we can - because their sacrifices were born not out of just piety but out of the cruelty and brutality of the place in which they found themselves.

Many died because they chose to resist the power; because they would not back down from their faith. We live in a time and place - for now - wherein our faith and our freedom to pursue it - exists. It is for this reason and it alone we have not seen great martyrs here. And this is a good thing, perhaps, or at least speaks well of this nation. The communists created a certain number of martyrs as have the Islamic states.

By this I mean - saints who were killed for their faith.

10/10/2007 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

They have shrunk in New York.

Jawdropper of the Day, h/t LGF:
"New York's iconic Empire State Building is to be lit up green from Friday in honor of the Muslim holiday of Eid.....

Given my own personal experience of arriving in Allepo, Syria at dusk on Eid in 2004 , and briefly having to navigate streets littered with trash and teenage boys,  yelling obscenities at me, who was wearing a full length coat w/ hood AND accompanied by a male companion, all I can say is God Help America.

10/10/2007 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Thanks Walt!

From the article Walt linked,

"The purpose of art and philosophy is to show us truths about human nature, about the nature of the world and our place in it. Philosophy names these truths explicitly, in literal terms; literature dramatizes these truths in concrete terms, revealing its insights through the actions and statements of the characters created by the novelist. A philosophical novel, like Atlas Shrugged, is supposed to do both of these things."

Ayn Rand's Objectivism gives your head a cleansing philosophical acid washing, and stands you up on the sturdy ground of reality, with Man as worthy of living in it, and America as worthy and deserving of defending for it; the natural result of the philosophical rarity of seeing reality and Truth as an objective, complete, integrated and unfractured Whole.

True it's atheistic, but only incidentally so, not rabidly. They find no physicical evidence for religion, and so give no further consideration to anything but the here and now.

But from that place where Reality and Truth exists, you're in a prime position to begin looking spiritually inwards at Truth, and for me anyways, I couldn't help noticing that inner door...

10/10/2007 03:30:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"New York's iconic Empire State Building is to be lit up green from Friday in honor of the Muslim holiday of Eid....."

OMG!!! NO F@$!*&# WAY!!!

10/10/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Bob, you wrote about,
"...the problem I'm having so far with Wallace" ... and "...he's really got a bug up his asana...." I have a lot of respect for Wallace, but he, like Jack Kornfeld, found their Western unconscious wouldn't let them be comfortable living in Asia or India, yet they feel the Eastern teachings are superior. I suspect both are never entirely "home" - just my guess.

And this:
"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..." Uh, well, if your aim is at all vertical, then "get used to it!" is good advice. How can I "die before I die" without trauma, and having my dignity assaulted? Ahhh, yes, as you wrote: "...a Raccoon is in love with all forms of truth." That's the way we like it!

And later:
As Aurobindo remarked in a letter, "My own life and yoga have always been ... both this-worldly and other-worldly .... 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..." This reminded me of a passage from last Sunday, where you described "...one of the central philosophical ideas to emerge from quantum theory is that of complementarity. That is, we can never affirm one thing about the cosmos without "para-doxically" affirming its complementary opposite..."

Again and again, the need to "balance," even when it comes to the visible and invisible.

10/10/2007 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Tuesday's post, the one with the photo of Hillary in her pointy hat, has got top billing at PJM!

10/10/2007 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I don't mean to rag on Wallace, since I really enjoyed his first book (not so much the second), and this one is good as well. It's just that he seems to have internalized all the usual secular leftist myths about Christianity and about the West in general.

These people are so naive about why Western civilization in general, and America in particular, are so great. It's because of our distinct and historically rare and unusual values. And to the extent that Buddhist countries become decent places for their own citizens to live, it will be because they have imported these values.

Also, it seems kind of silly to trash 14th century Christianity and judge it by today's standards. I mean, where were the really great places to live in 1400? I know next to nothing about 14th century Asia, but I'm guessing it wasn't exactly paradise for the average Joe, and that there was just as much stupidity in the name of Buddhism as there ever was in the guise of Christianity.

10/10/2007 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yikes! Better reread yesterday's post to make sure there's nothing too wacky or too "inside," coonologically speaking.

10/10/2007 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

I have heard it taught that the nihilism of Buddhism was a preferable refuge for the miserables trapped in a hopeless, endless caste system. (But I'm not an historian.)

Cryptic...

The origins of the U.S. are most certainly founded in a Christian understanding of law. English common law, as exposited in Blackstone's Commentaries, was the major influence on the legal minds that played a part in our founding. Representative republics that have sprung up in our wake indirectly owe their societal stability to that influence.

You will not get an accurate view if you make comparisons based on present-day (so-called) religiosity/non-religiosity and look backward from there, as our current form of religiosity is very different from that which influenced our founding, *and* because our society unquestionably is far more secularized now (ACLU & Hollywood anyone?) than our founders would ever have envisioned it could be. Christian faith no longer has the influence on our society it once did, in other words. Lots of people claim it; few live it. And it's been banned from our public life. Children are educated in thoroughly humanistic schools now.

(I don't know about all European democracies, but it's a pretty good guess they have grown increasingly non-religious since their founding. With the current influx of Muslim influence, that will not be the case much longer, and my guess is that homicide rates will not be at their current rates in a few years. :( Honor killings, and other retributory murders are on the rise already. Secular "progressivism" cannot possibly offer a sufficient defense for civil society.)

Our legal guardians now no longer interpret, but instead rewrite, the original principles underlying our representative republic. Some even look to "international law" for precedent, instead of our own Constitution. So, what other result could you expect, straying so far from what is right and fitting?

10/10/2007 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Unconscious, big bang, and genome,
Oh my!
Unconscious, big bang, and genome,
Oh my!
Lions, Tigers and Bears...

There's no place like om, there's no place like om...

wv: rkbozu (none of them on this bus!)

10/10/2007 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger John said...

"First is the discovery of heliocentrism, which displaced the earth from the center to the periphery of the solar system..."

Just remember that for the left the center of the universe has always been the self.

10/11/2007 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Interesting, Susannah -- I hadn't really originally thought of this as a discussion of where US law came from. Are you sure it comes from a "Christian understanding" (only put in quotes because I'm not sure exactly what you mean by it).

After all, if we go through the law, what aspect of Christianity accounts for the second amendment? When Christianity abhors blasphemy, why do we have a first amendment? Common law says if an intruder comes into your home, you can shoot to kill in self-defense -- this doesn't seem like a particularly Christian notion to me.

For most of Christianity's history, it hasn't had a problem with lack of democracy, so I don't know that we can consider democracy part of the core of Christian values. Trial by a jury of peers is a relatively new phenomenon, as well. Is there a set of values you can identify as specifically Christian?

Yes, I agree judicial activism is a shameful misappropriation of power.

I find your statement about secular progressivism not being a sufficient defense to Islamists very interesting. You could well be right, at least as far as progressives go ("secular" is a bit broader, though I'll grant you there's a fair degree of overlap).

10/11/2007 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Crypt, you are missing the implicit-explicit relationship between the law and Christianity.

Hint - it comes to fulfill the law.

That is to say, in a society where no man blasphemes the Lord on his own accord, freedom of speech is easy.

In a society where no man lifts his hand in deceitful violence against his neighbor, his worst worry is the government coming to take what belongs to him.

Etc. You have to start from a Christian/ized standpoint to arrive at the Constitution.

10/11/2007 07:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

It should also go without saying that Christianity only gradually Christianized Western man.

10/11/2007 08:26:00 PM  

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