Sunday, July 22, 2007

Your Mother's Cookin' Sturgeon, Your Sister's Still a Virgin

Excuse me?

That line is from one of the greatest albums in rock history -- great in the sense that it is so exquisitely bad. Specifically, it is from Sonny Bono's 1967 magnum dopus, Inner Views.

(Read on if you haven't heard this one before. It is an on oldie from about 16 months ago. In fact, if you also want to read the comments, here's the original post. Bear in mind that I realize I am playing fast and loose with official dogma -- just dreaming out loud, as it were.)

You see, after the Beatles released Revolver in 1966, followed by Sgt. Pepper in 1967, they redefined rock music as a serious art form (not as serious as they thought, but that's another story). Up to that time, rock had mainly been a singles medium, and albums were basically marketing tools to sell them. Most albums had a couple of hit singles surrounded by a bunch of unlistenable dreck.

But the Beatles raised the aesthetic bar, so that by 1967 every rock "artist" thought they needed to produce their own Sgt. Pepper. Furthermore, to a man, they all thought themselves capable of doing so. As a result, this era produced some of the most unintentionally hilarious music, as there were only a handful of artists capable of being.... well, artists.

It's a funny thing about language. One would think that it would be easy to write surreal, nonsense poetry capturing the psychedelic experience, as did John Lennon:

Semolina pilchard, climbing up the eiffel tower.
Elementary penguin singing hari krishna,
Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.


Or, to not beat around the bong,

Turn off your mind, relax
and float down stream
It is not dying
It is not dying

Lay down all thought
Surrender to the void
It is shining
It is shining

That you may see
The meaning of within
It is being
It is being....

Or play the game
existence to the end
Of the beginning
Of the beginning
Of the beginning....


Sound advice. But here's Sonny's attempt at profundity:

Backwards forwards which is right
Black is day and white is night
Smell the air it's real up tight


Yeah, I know that smell. Really, really up tight air. Or how about this wigged-out insight:


I wonder why we want to fly
The closer we get to the sky
The less we see with the naked eye
The world looks like a little ball
And people don't exist at all
Oh wow!



Oh wow. He should stick to skiing.

In fact, come to think if it, it's pretty basic -- take the drugs before you sit down at the piano, not before you strap on the skis.

Anyway. I've really digressed here. Like Sonny, I wanted to say something about the Virgin and about language. The decisive role of the Virgin Mary in the Christian spiritual economy is such a... pregnant mystery. It is full of implicit, unsaturated meaning. Remember yesterday, I mentioned that scripture and tradition provide the immobile axes around which we may "reason" about divine things. The Virgin -- which is a way of approaching and thinking about the divine feminine -- is a case in point.

It is interesting that, although there is very little mention of Mary in the New Testament, she found a way to eventually earn the exalted designation of Theokotos, or "Mother of God", in Orthodoxy, or "co-redemptress" by the Catholic Church. Is this just because of the unavoidable sexual polarity we all have as a result of having had a mother and father? In other words, is this notion simply conjured up out of our deepest unconscious infantile recollections? Esotericism would hold the opposite: that our parents -- both mother and father -- are divine deputies that actually partake of spiritual archetypes that are anterior to any personal existence.

One thing the great rabbis noticed is that scripture is like a fractal jewel with all of its parts internally related and reflecting back and forth, so that one part may illuminate another in surprising ways. Take, for example, the parallels between Genesis and the Gospels, how the former presage the latter and the latter are a commentary on the former. The primordial catastrophe of man is said to have involved God, a man, a woman, a serpent, and a tree. Ontologically, man was said to be a creation of God, woman a creation of man. Let's just ignore political correctness for the moment and try to understand what is being suggested here in the text. Apparently man's proper orientation is to God, as planet around sun, while woman has a lunar aspect analogous to moon around planet (and remember, we all carry the male and female archetypes within -- we are talking spirit here, not just biology or even psychology).

The "fall" reverses this arrow (or turns the tree upside-down), so that the woman is oriented to the earth: she is seduced by the serpent (the symbol of earthbound horizontality), the man is seduced by the woman, and now man's consciousness ultimately hews to the earth below rather than revolving around the transcendent sun above.

It is sometimes suggested that Jesus was the "second Adam," brought here on a mission to undo what the first naughty Adam had done, which was to orient himself around the earth (the horizontal below, or maya) rather than sun (the vertical above). Then, finding the daughters of men quite fair indeed -- who could blame them? -- the sons of God dived right in, and the fall was complete. We were hooked. And cooked. Just like a... a sturgeon or something.

Just as Jesus and Adam are linked as antitypes, so too are Eve and the Virgin. Interestingly, Adam is a direct creation of God, while Jesus, the "second Adam," is conceived through the medium of Mary, the "second Eve." Now we have a very different arrow of creation: instead of God-->Adam-->Eve, we have God-->Mary-->Jesus. The first Eve is seduced by the honeyed words of the serpent, while the second Eve hears and obeys the Word of God and gives birth to the son of God. As death entered the world through the first Eve, Life enters through the second -- death is reversed and victory over the serpent is achieved.

It is interesting that maya in Eastern religions is considered a specifically feminine activity, and that the word maya is etymologically linked to the Sanskrit root mata, which means both mother and the phenomenal world of nature. Nature and maya are associated with fascination and charm, specifically, feminine charm. And yet, nature is at the same time considered a theophany. In other words, it both conceals and reveals God, depending on one's point of view.

In the Old Testament, the divine feminine is specifically associated with Sophia, or Wisdom. In the Book of Proverbs, there are numerous passages that emphasize this: "Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you." "My son, if you receive my words / And treasure my commands within you / So that you incline your ear to wisdom / And apply your heart to understanding / [Then you will] find knowledge of God." "Happy is the man who finds wisdom / For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver.... / She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her." "Exalt her, and she will promote you.... / She will place on your head an ornament of grace."

Even more provocatively, this feminine wisdom has been "From the beginning... when there were no depths I was brought forth... / While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields / Or the primeval dust of the world / When He prepared the heavens, I was there / When He drew a circle on the face of the deep..., when He marked out the foundations of the earth / Then I was beside Him, Rejoicing always before him...."

There are many similar passages exalting the beauty of Sophia, the divine feminine. So who is the Virgin? Mary's receptivity to the divine wisdom allowed her to give birth to the Word in womb of her soul. If God became man so that man might become God, Mary-Sophia had first to conceive the word so that the nonlocal word might become flesh in a particular space and time. To be able to realize this mystery within oneself, one must be like the Virgin, and become a pure and humble receptacle for the "immaculate conception."

In the prologue of the Coonifesto I touch on the idea that we are all "conceived in d'light immaculate," and that "every lila son of adwaita (pronounced "a-doy-ta," meaning ultimate truth) is born of a voidgin." In other words, our higher selves are not born of the flesh, but are immaculately conceived by hearing the Word within the purified void of the soul, and then given birth out of the mamamatrix of Spirit.

Or, as Sonny Bono sang,

Your daddy's getting nosey
Your mother's cookin' sturgeon
Your sister's still a virgin
Pretty soon that'll disappear
Good morning sun
A new frontier
Much to my acute surprise
Sunday morning has still survived


Oh wow!

*****

Hmm, what's my favorite slice of dreamy pop psychedelia? Probably the previously unreleased suite from the abandoned Smile project on the latter half of disc 2 of the Beach Boys box set. Pop music probably hasn't advanced beyond that. Other contenders: Odessey and Oracle by the Zombies, Roger the Engineer by the Yardbirds, Younger Than Yesterday and The Notorious Byrd Brothers by the Byrds, pretty much the whole Rascals Anthology, Odessa by the Bee Gees, Forever Changes by Love, and Begin Again by Millennium. Then there is the excellent four-disc overview of the whole era of garage rock and suburban psychedelia that, for better or worse, shaped the Gagdad soul, Nuggets. Sometime I crank it up and play along with the Strat when Mrs. G is out of the house. 'Scuse me while I kiss the sky!

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Blessed Remystification of the World

We live in a world of fragmentation and doubt. The two are related, because our modern rational minds know how to tear down and analyze but not to synthesize and revision the whole. It is a cliché, but nevertheless true that a main purpose of religion is to reconnect one to the whole, or to at least give one a sense of it, both spatially and temporally.

A commenter yesterday chided me for poking fun at atheists, but I actually sympathize with them. As I have said before, when I ridicule them, I am specifically referring to the obnoxious, militant ones who get their jollies belittling religion in such a lowbrow way. I'm just punching back in the way that boys will do. No hard feelings. Assholes.

But I always emphasize that agnosticism is a completely honorable position, and I have no problem with atheists who refrain from becoming evangelists of stupidity. Look, for some people, religion comes quite naturally. It makes total sense to them, so they never had to grapple with whether or not the Creator exists, and what to do about it. There are also people to whom atheism comes quite naturally. Human traits are distributed along a continuum, and spiritual receptivity just happens to be one of those traits. Just as there are mathematical or artistic geniuses, there are surely spiritual geniuses. Necessarily there are spiritual dunces, imbeciles, and morons.

The difference between Vincent van Gogh and a Sunday painter is more or less infinite, which itself is a mystery to ponder. Likewise the distance between Van Morrison and Bon Jovi, or James Madison and John Edwards. Similarly, if you are sensitive to spiritual matters, you soon realize that history has probably deposited as many or as few authentic spiritual geniuses as artistic or scientific ones along the way.

We tend to think of history as self-propelling in the direction of progress, but as Charles Murray pointed out in Human Accomplishment -- in which he attempts to quantify human excellence from prehistory to the present -- you don't have to subtract too many people before history becomes an even bleaker place than it already is. In fact, when you assemble the list of people who have contributed the most to art, science, philosophy and technology, "only a few thousand people stand out from the rest. Among them, the people who are indispensable to the story of human accomplishment number in the hundreds. Among those hundreds, a handful stand conspicuously above the rest."

Those who stand conspicuously above the rest cut across disciplines. A religious genius and a scientific genius will have much more in common than either will have with a mediocre mind such as Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins. Most people can sense this: that depth converges, regardless of the discipline. This is why people can be spiritually invigorated, say, by great music or poetry.

But we can also be spiritually nourished by science, so long as we do not reduce it to the enclosed and circular little world of scientism. The more science discovers about the cosmos, the more reason for awe and wonder. I don't think science has demystified the world at all; rather, it has remystified it, especially after a little sidetrack down the paths of empiricism and positivism that only lasted for a couple hundred years at the most. The universe is so much stranger than supposed by antequated materialists, that we literally cannot suppose how strange it is. In order to be sufficiently puzzled by reality, we have to crank our puzzler up to 11.

But there is something in the human mind that wants to contain novelty and demystify the world -- to make the anxiety of not-knowing go away. In a sense this is perfectly understandable. Ironically, it is a legacy of our evolved nature which, after all, was not designed to ponder the mystery of being, but to survive and get tenure.

It is almost as if the atheist sophers from a hypertrophied "empirical ego," so to speak -- that is, the part of the mind which is more or less exterior to being, and is mostly an adaptation to its environment. As such, it just wants to map reality in the simplest way possible, irrespective of distortions and omissions impossible. This is why most cultures have generally produced one dopey map after another. They are simply ad hoc affairs, aimed more at diminishing group anxiety than approaching and assimilating Truth.

As I have mentioned before, science proceeds from the unknown to the known, while religion proceeds from the known to the great unknown. I have also made the bobservation that science is the subjective study of the ultimate object, whereas religion is the objective study of the ultimate Subject. Clearly, science involves human subjects attempting to understand reality by quantifying it. But science can never offer any ultimate explanation, because the scientist doing the explaining will always defy quantification. For he is an irreducible subject, an ontological category that slips through the coarse cognitive nets of science like trying to eat a soupy herd of Jello cats nailed to the wall with a fork.

One of my favorite little signposts along the way was The Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object by Franklin Merrell-Wolff. It is a day-to-day, somewhat dispassionate autobiography of a spiritual transformation. At the time I read it, I found much in common with my own experience. It begins,

"August 17

"The ineffable transition came, about ten days ago.... At the time, I was engaged in the reading of portions of The System of the Vedanta.... I had been led to this specific program of reading through the realization that Shankara's words had a peculiar power, at least in my own experience. For some time I had spontaneously looked to him as a Guru with whom I was in complete sympathetic accord. I had found him always clear and convincing, at least in all matters relative to the analysis of consciousness, while with the other Sages I either found obscurities or emphases which which I could not feel complete sympathy...."

He goes on to describe the experience of a subtle current of transcendental joy that seemed to result from persistent efforts "to reconcile Transcendent Being with the physical universe. The idea is that ponderable matter -- meaning by that term all things sensed whether gross or subtle -- is, in fact, a relative absence of substance, a sort of partial vacuum." The effect was "a far more effective acceptance of substantial reality where the senses reported emptiness, and a greater capacity to realize unreality -- or merely dependent and derivative reality -- in the material given through the senses."

In short, he had reversed figure and ground, so to speak, in exactly the manner implied above, in that that he was vouchsafed the objective experience of the transcendent Subject. At once he realized the error in looking for an "ultimate object," either in science or in religion. Instead, he "abstracted the subjective moment -- the 'I AM' or 'Atman' element -- from the totality of the objective consciousness manifold." Looked at another way, he had an experience of the implicate ground of consciousness itself: "The Silence is Full and Pregnant, and out of It flows the Stream of all formations in endless variety: symphonies, philosophies, governments, sciences, arts, societies, and so on and on and on."

Yesterday we touched on the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. In his approach to yoga, the initial stage involves the "awakening" or identification with what he calls the "psychic being" (not to be confused with "psychics," channelers, and the like). Although Aurobindo gave it a particular name, I obviously believe that he was describing something universal, and which is recognized in some form or fashion in all the major religions. Looked at in the most abstract way, we would simply say that it is that part of man which exists on the vertical plane, both "behind" and potentially "above" the ego. It is both the subject of spiritual knowledge and the object of spritual growth. In my book, I give it the symbol (¶) to distinguish it from the horizontal self, (•).

Baby's up. Back in a bit... He's got a cold, so this may take awhile....

Longer than I thought. Mrs. G was up with him several times last night, so she just went back to bed. Now my hands are full. Better just post now and continue tomorrow. In any event, I hope this post has nudged you a bit toward the remystification of your world, or what we call "higher coonfusion."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Evolution of the Interior Horizon of the Cosmos

So, in 1995, knowing that I had to choose one path and stick to it, I became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. At the time, the choice was rather easy, based on the options available (or which I thought were available). Aurobindo (1872-1950) is widely considered to be the greatest Hindu sage of the 20th century, perhaps ever, alongside Shankara.

At the time, for reasons I have explained, I couldn't have chosen Christianity, because I just didn't know of any kind of Christianity that appealed to me, and many of the most visible forms -- or at least their practitioners -- frankly repelled me. I was a typical case of someone who turns to the east because we are exposed to so many religious yahoos from our own tradition. If I had been born in India, I'd probably have become Catholic, seeing what a wreck certain Hindu doctrines had made of the place. It was a classic case of comparing their best with our worst.

But Aurobindo also appealed to me because of his thoroughly modern intellect. Although born in India, he was educated at some of the finest schools in England, where he mastered Greek, Latin, and English -- not to mention learning French, Italian, German, and Spanish -- received various prizes for literature and history, and was eventually awarded a scholarship to Cambridge. By the time he returned to India in 1893, he had been thoroughy anglicized and actually had no knowledge of Indian culture or religion. He took a position at a university and then became one of the early leaders in the movement for independence. He was arrested on charges of sedition in 1908 and spent a year in jail, where he had some powerful spiritual experiences. He was acquitted a year later.

To make an endless story short, the spiritual experiences kept coming, and eventually a small group of followers formed around him. He began publishing a spiritual journal in 1914, and his output was somewhat staggering. For the next ten years or so, he engaged in what he called "overmental writing," in that the material would seemingly just come down through him as opposed to from him. Simultaneously he composed several major works, any one of which would be considered a signal achievement for a normal person, including The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Human Cycle, and commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Vedas, not to mention reams of poetry, including the cosmic-spiritual epic Savitri, at some 24,000 lines the longest poem in the English language.

Much of his prose probably sounds a bit turgid to modern ears, since he was educated at the peak of that overly formal and florid Victorian or Edwardian or whatever you call it style. However, after the mid-1920s or so, he wrote almost nothing but letters to disciples -- thousands and thousands of them -- and in these he is much more informal, sometimes humorous and playful (he still wrote some poems as well). The letters are collected into three volumes, and are much more accessible than his formal writings. If you add the three volumes of letters together, they come to some 3400 pages, and cover most every conceivable spiritual topic.

I don't know that I want to get into a complete review of his philosophy, because it's just too complex and multifaceted. (The best introduction is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem). But perhaps his central theme was the reconciliation of the perennial insights of Vedanta embodied in the Upanishads (which form the esoteric essence of Hindu metaphysics) with the evolutionary cosmos revealed by science. In this regard, he was way ahead of his time, because he recognized that there can be no conflict between religion and science -- or that if there appears to be conflict, it must be concealing a deeper unity that eludes us. He has certain rough parallels with Hegel, in that he sees the cosmos as a platform of spiritual evolution toward higher and higher syntheses of unity.

But he has even more in common with the Catholic thinker Teilhard de Chardin, whose Phenomenon of Man was the first systematic attempt to do with Christianity what Aurobindo was doing with Vedanta, which is to say, reconcile it with the new scientific views that emerged in the late 19th and 20th centuries. In turn, Aurobindo and Teilhard have some loose affinities with the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, if you want a purely secular point of entry into a cosmic view of evolution.

Another thing about Sri Aurobindo that appealed to me was that his approach worked largely through grace as opposed to self-effort. As I have mentioned, I really hadn't gotten too far based upon my own efforts, so I submitted myself to the grace of Sri Aurobindo and his collaborator, known as The Mother (long strange story there). I didn't really expect anything to happen, but something did, and rather immediately. I began meditating on a darshan photo of them, and felt "zapped" by their force. I suppose that's neither here nor there, but I was soon able to understand spiritual matters in a way I never could before. It was as if a veil had been lifted, or a new kind of transpersonal light shone on whatever it was I was looking into.

It was during this period of time that the idea for my book came to me. I was just meditating and I had this four-part, circular vision of the whole. I must emphasize that I saw the whole first, and that I had no idea how or even whether I would be able to sketch it out in linear form, as a sort of story, or four part "cosmic suite." In fact, there is no doubt that I wouldn't do it the same way today, but I did the best I could with the materials available to me -- or which fell into my hands -- at the time.

The book was actually written in the order it appears, as I first attempted to tackle cosmology and physics, then theoretical biology, then human evolution, and then the algorithms of spiritual transformation. As the book unfolds, you could say that I am grappling with both the subject matter and myself in real time -- except for the prologue and epilogue, which more or less represent the distilled essence of what I came up -- or down -- with.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled upon a book that was very helpful to me at the time, The Unity of Reality: God, God-Experience, and Meditation in the Hindu-Christian Dialogue. In it, von Bruck writes that "yoga is nothing else than a preparation of the body and mind for non-dual, intuitive knowledge." Elsewhere he writes that "Western culture is determined more by reflection, Asiatic cultures by meditation. The meeting of the two is the important historical event of the present century."

That's how I feel. I just don't see how any kind of fundamentalist religion can survive if it isn't compatible with everything else we know to be true about the cosmos, both in its exterior and interior aspects.

This post was interrupted by child care responsibilities, and I lost the thread. I'll have to try to pick it up again tomorrow. Assuming anyone's interested, since the ol' site meter indicates that increasing numbers flee from the blog every day.

I have broken the limits of the embodied mind
And am no more the figure of a soul.
The burning galaxies are in me outlined;
The universe is my stupendous whole.
--Sri Aurobindo, The Cosmic Spirit

Till all is done for which the stars were made,
Till the heart discovers God
And the soul knows itself. And even then
There is no end.
--Sri Aurobindo, Is This the End

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Unity of Consciousness: Two, One, Blessed Off! (7.27.10)

Well then, it all comes down to consciousness, doesn't it? What is it? What's it doing here? If consciousness is just a fluke, a total cosmic accident, what makes us think that it can truly know anything, much less the truth about itself?

Schuon wrote that "One of the keys to the understanding of our true nature and of our ultimate destiny is the fact that the things of this world never measure up to the real range of our intelligence. Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or it is nothing. Among all the intelligences of this world the human spirit alone is capable of objectivity, and this implies – or proves – that what confers on our intelligence the power to accomplish to the full what it can accomplish, and what makes it wholly what it is, is the Absolute alone." Along these lines, he quotes Dante: “I perceive that our intellect is never satisfied, if the True does not enlighten it, outside which no truth is possible."

Consciousness is constituted of awareness; intelligence; will; and sentiment. As mentioned yesterday in the brief discussion of Schopenhauer, human beings have an automatic bias toward concretizing the explicate aspect of their own consciousness, which we call the ego. But the ego is only the local constellation of a much more encompassing, nonlocal "implicate" consciousness, which includes unconscious and supra-conscious levels (i.e., the lower and higher vertical).

Analogously, the ego is like a cloud against a clear blue sky. We focus on the cloud, but do not see that it is simply the end result of a global weather pattern -- a small "ripple" against a vast and unbroken substrate of nonlinear meteorological processes. Or better yet, compare it to an ocean current. Imagine reifying the current, and thinking that it is somehow separate from the ocean that produced it. This goes not just for the ego-island atop our own little pond of consciousness, but the presence of human beings within the cosmic ocean that tossed them up like a tangle of seaweed upon the shore.

But exactly where do we draw the line with regard to consciousness? Presumably there is an absolute line between you and me -- or your consciousness and my consciousness. Therefore, we invented language in order to link minds to other minds. But that is not exactly how language works. Rather, language is very much like consciousness itself, in that it has an implicate/explicate order -- in other words, its particular meanings rest upon a much deeper kind of holographic field that unifies us within language as such.

I see this vividly in my two year old son, who is in the midst of "language acquisition." He has always been extremely talkative, even though his speech had no discernible content. While it had pitch, modulation, emphasis, dramatic pauses, musicality, etc., he seemed to be using a private language. Some days it sounded like Chinese, other days German, but it was possible to have lengthy, animated conversations with him merely by mimicking his speech patterns.

In my opinion, what the boy was doing was laying down the implicate order of language, in which he first links up directly with other minds. Only afterwards have actual words been superimposed upon this deep connectedness. So on the one hand, language "divides" the world into units of meaning, but it rests upon a sea of primordial, holistic interconnectedness. Language doesn't "invent" the interconnectedness so much as take advantage of it and ride piggyback on top of it. The oneness is our prior condition.

This is what makes humans so different from computers, which also "talk" to one another, but only in an atomistic and linear way. In fact, there are many people with various mental disorders who use language more like a computer than a human being. We might call them "autistic," "schizoid," or just a little "off," but what they lack is a feel for the music that lay beneath the words.

Furthermore, this is one of the primary barriers to accessing the world of meaning present in religion. The obligatory atheist or doctrinaire materialist is, for whatever reason, unable to "read out" what is being conveyed through religious language. Instead, they reduce it to its explicate form, which immediately forecloses the implicate.

As we discussed a couple of days ago, it is not so much that there are two realms -- conscious/unconscious, implicate/explicate, or phenomenal/noumenal -- but different ways of looking at the same thing. For example, while the purpose of psychotherapy is to "make the unconscious conscious," it is not as if one can ever know the unconscious directly. Rather, one merely begins to look at oneself -- ones actions, beliefs, and feelings -- from a different "angle," so to speak, which in turn reveals a world of hidden meaning. But it's the same world. There are no bright lines in the mind.

Likewise, to enter the realm mapped by religion is not, strictly speaking, to enter another world, but to regard the same world from a different perspective. However, it can feel like another world, simply because the focus is on the implicate side of things; to put it another way, everything about religion bears on unifying the complementarity that creates the empirical ego to begin with: whole vs. part, eternity vs. time, One vs. many, Absolute vs. relative, wave vs. particle, consciousness vs. matter, etc.

Now, another way of looking at this is that we must discern between the created and uncreated aspects of our own consciousness, or between the Intellect (the nous, not the lower mind) vs. the ego. As Schuon writes:

"The Intellect, in a certain sense, is ‘divine’ for the mind [i.e., ego] and ‘created’ or ‘manifested’ for God: it is nonetheless necessary to distinguish between a ‘created Intellect’ and an ‘uncreated Intellect,’ the latter being the divine Light and the former the reflection of this Light at the center of Existence; ‘essentially,’ they are One, but ‘existentially,’ they are distinct, so that we could say, in Hindu style, that the Intellect is ‘neither divine nor non-divine,’ an elliptical expression which doubtless is repugnant to the Latin and Western mentality, but which transmits an essential shade of meaning. However that may be, when we speak of the Heart-Intellect, we mean the universal faculty which has the human heart for its symbolical seat, but which, while being ‘crystallised’ according to different planes of reflection, is none the less ‘divine’ in its single essence."

Now the heart is an interesting organ, for it has always been the symbol of man's implicate consciousness -- that which joins as opposed to the brain, which separates, distinguishes and analyzes. Do you remember your first broken heart? Exactly what was broken? I don't know about you, but for me it was the entire unity of being. Suddenly I was a cosmic orphan, disconnected from the very source of Life and Love.

But subsequent therapy revealed that this broken heart was superimposed upon an earlier brokenness, or primordial disconnection, and that it was simply the "occasion" to realize it. In fact, the "falling in love" itself was an attempt to recapture the broken unity, which was one of the reasons why it was charged with an intensity well beyond what was healthy or appropriate.

It reminds me of something one of my psychoanalytic mentors once said about relationships. Unhealthy people always want to go from two to one. But a healthy relationship involves going from one to two. If you try to use the other person to complete yourself, you are headed for trouble of one kind or another. The idea is to complement a self that is already reasonably whole.

But there is horizontal wholeness and vertical wholeness, and no human being can achieve the latter in the absence of some kind of active spiritual life. In this respect, we do want to go from being two to being -- or realizing -- One.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death!

So, Schopenhauer realized that Kant had made several serious boo-boos in his analysis. For one thing, Kant regarded the noumenal as consisting of things (plural) in themselves, uncolored by our perceptions of them. But in order for anything to be different from anything else, it must occupy a different space or be in a different time. If it occupies the same time and space, then it is the same thing. In fact, "the very concept of number would be impossible without the concept of succession, and the concept of succession presupposes either spatial or temporal concepts, or both" (Magee). So everything from mathematics to music to evolution can only occur in a universe in which there is differentiation and succession.

But -- as Kant pointed out, space and time are forms of human sensibility. Remove the human subject, and they vanish. For as I pointed out on page 55 of the Coonifesto -- which, thanks to the many supporters of this blog, continues to bubble under the top 300,000 sellers on amazon -- the cosmos actually has no qualities at all in the absence of a subject in space and time. I won't repeat my reasoning here, since I know you already have the book and can look it up yourself.

Schopenhauer concluded from this that whatever it is that abides outside experience must be undifferentiated. He didn't say "one," because even that presupposes its opposite, i.e., "many." Furthermore, being that knowledge implies differentiation between a subject and an object, a knower and something known, there can only be knowledge within the phenomenal world. We can know about the noumenal, in the same sense that I can know many things about another person and still never know what it is actually like to be him. There is a kind of absolute barrier that exists between the noumenal subject of any two people.

Schopenhauer's conclusion -- which seems to me unassailable, as far as it goes -- is that "there is an immaterial, undifferentiated, timeless, spaceless something of which we can never have direct knowledge but which manifests itself to us as this differentiated phenomenal world of material objects (including us) in space and time."

In my book, I used the symbol O to stand for this reality. Interestingly, Schopenhauer arrived at this conclusion using pure metaphysics alone. Only much later in life did one of the first copies of the Upanishads available in the West fall into his hands -- a Latin translation of a Persian translation. He would read a few pages before going to bed each night, and wrote of them that they were "the consolation of my life and will be that of my death."

But little did Schopenhauer know that there was actually no conflict between the Upanishads and the religious traditions of the West. Showing this to be so was one of the elephantine tusks I set before myself in writing One Cosmos, even if you think the book a pachydermented trunk full of junk. Again, it is not as if Christianity is in need of yoga, only that the latter -- at least for me -- helps to illuminate many hidden or underemphasized dimensions in the former. This is all I mean by "Christian yoga."

Getting back to Schopenhauer for a moment, although like all Raccoons he recognized that science was one of the glories of man, he was also fully aware of its sharp limitations with regard to metaphysics. As Magee writes, science can never be complete or exhaustive because "it explains things in terms that are themselves left unexplained," and is therefore inevitably circular. If you want to know what the world is as such, it is not in the nature of science to provide it: "Ultimate explanations, then, are not to be looked for in science. The insistence that they are is not a scientific belief but a belief in science, a metaphysical belief, an act of faith whose inadequacy [is] fairly easy to demonstrate. At its crudest it takes the form of materialism," which Schopenhauer described as "the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself." In fact, nothing that is mere knowledge can ever be ultimate, by definition.

Again, Schopenhauer's battle cry was that "the solution to the riddle of the world is only possible through the proper connection of outer with inner experience." "This being so," according to Magee, "it would seem that the royal road to a deeper understanding of the nature of things must pass through the investigation of inner as well as outer experience, and if anything, more the former than the latter." In fact, Schopenhauer was of the belief that "philosophy has so long been in vain because it was sought by way of the sciences instead of by way of the arts."

And exactly what did he mean by this? Of all the arts, he especially felt that music was the most adequate expression of the way in which the noumenal passes into the phenomenal, or the manner in which we may trace the phenomenal back to the noumenal. This is discussed on pp. 106-107 of the Coonifesto, so I won't rebeat myhorse here.

Rather, I would like to go down a tangent that I don't think I ever explicitly considered before. In a certain sense, Shopenhauer was a precursor of Freud's discoveries of the unconscious, in that he recognized that our own interior structure mirrored that of the cosmos. That is to say, we have an outward "phenomenal" ego that floats atop, so to speak, "an underlying reality that remains hidden from us and can never be met with in experience." Not only is this realm "unconscious," but it is incapable of being conscious (to us, not for itself, a key point). For ultimately it is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream, the ineffable background subject of human experience.

This being so, I wonder if it proves the existence of our own immortality -- not of the ego, which, of course, is phenomenal and therefore of the passing moment, but of its source and ground, which necessarily transcends space and time. My favorite Christian yogi, Meister Eckhart, certainly thought so, for

There is something in the soul which is above the soul, divine, simple, an absolute nothing; rather unnamed than named; unknown than known.... higher than knowledge, higher than love, higher than grace, for in all these there is still a distinction.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Who's Minting the Mind?

I wasn't planning on posting anything today, but I read this WSJ editorial on The New Atheism, and it got me to thinking. Perhaps I should discoonvert to atheism, since there's big money there:

"Some 500,000 hardcover copies are in print of Richard Dawkins's 'The God Delusion' (2006); 296,000 copies of Christopher Hitchens's 'God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything' (2007); 185,000 copies of Sam Harris's 'Letter to a Christian Nation' (2006); 64,100 copies of Daniel C. Dennett's 'Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon'; and 60,000 copies of Victor J. Stenger's 'God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does not Exist' (2007)."

I'm sure I could write a more convincing and entertaining book than these five. Let's say I sell half a million copies. I live pretty simply, so I could retire and use the proceeds to spend the rest of my life laying in the hammock in the back yard, reading mystical theology and thinking about God.

But I just don't see how any logical person can arrive at atheism. To be fully craptized into the faith, I would have to pretend to be so ignorant -- such a metaphysical rube -- that I don't know that I could be very convincing. If you're going to be an atheist, you obviously have to be passionate, even hysterical, since cold logic won't get you very far. I was noticing this the other day with the amazon reviews of Michael Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution. It seems that it's impossible for the Darwinian fundamentalists to express their objection to Behe's ideas without all the strident hysteria. It really is as if he is a scientific heretic. Burn him!

One of my favorite Western philosophers is the much misunderstood Schopenhauer. In a way, I don't think he has been surpassed -- or can be surpassed -- because he takes reason as far as it can go, which is to the noumenon, the ultimate unknowable reality (O) behind appearances (he used the singular "noumenon" rather than "noumena," because he understood that whatever else it was, it had to be one, which I will explain later). Schopenhauer realized that science does not -- cannot -- disclose the noumenon, only the phenomena which are its expression.

I have so little time this morning that I'll probably end up oversimplifying, but here goes....

Schopenhauer wrote that "the solution to the riddle of the world is only possible through the proper connection of outer with inner experience." He begins with Kant's idea that the human body and brain are by definition limited to dealing with an object of possible experience -- which doesn't necessarily have to be a material object. Rather, it can be a work of music, a mathematical equation, a memory. "But whatever these are, the totality of them constitutes the outer limit of what we can have any thought or awareness of."

However -- and this is where the atheists commit their howler -- "it does not follow from this that it is also the outer limit of what exists." Rather, "What is just is, independently of us and the apparatus with which we happen to find ourselves equipped; and we have no grounds whatsoever for believing that reality, the totaltity of what exists, coincides with what we are able to apprehend -- and nor could we ever have any such grounds, for that would involve our being able to see on both sides of a line when that line is, as we have just said, an outer limit." Nevertheless, the intellect has a naive bias toward confusing its abstractions with reality.

Of course, it is always possible that the scientific ideas capable of being hatched in the mind of man just so happen to coincide with ultimate reality. But the chances are so remote that we may dismiss them out of hand. In a way, the atheist is asking us to believe something far more unbelievable than religious revelation, which is that the cosmos reveals its true inner and outer nature to man just by sheer luck.

But as Magee points out, "The only plausible possibility of a reality completely corresponding to our conceptions of it rests on the possibility that reality itself could be mind-like, or could be created by a mind, or by minds." Ironically, it is the atheists and other flatlanders "who most confidently do not believe this... [and] who are most tightly wedded to an epistemological criterion of reality. That is one of the incoherences of their position."

Shopenhauer wrote that the relationship between the noumenon and the phenomenal world is not a causal one. Rather, they are "the same thing understood in different ways." For example, consider the physicist's equations that disclose a mysterious realm of flowing, unbroken wholeness, or "implicate" order "beneath" the explicate world available to our senses. Is the quantum world the "cause" of the familiar Newtonian world of solid bodies moving in space? No, it is not. It is the same reality, only regarded "in a totally different way from the way I normally perceive and think about it. The same object is being apprehended in two ways which are completely different, and yet both are valid -- both, if you like, 'true.'"

Some of Shopenhauer's deepest insights about the nature of ultimate reality came from his great appreciation of art. He believed that "it is the specific function of the arts to convey profound and unique insights that are unamenable to conceptual communication." Although this kind of insight is "not communicable in concepts, it is, nevertheless, communicable.... Even when a great work of art is constructed out of words, as is a poem, play, or novel, it is nevertheless impossible to say in words what it 'means.'" In other words, "the meaning of a work of art is something that the work conveys but cannot state."

If this is true of art, how much more true it is of revelation, including the revelations of the cosmos, of life, and of the human mind itself. Put another way, the existence of man's mind tells us much more about the nature of this cosmos than any of its particular mental content.

To be continued. (All quotes taken from Bryan Magee's very enjoyable Confessions of a Philosopher, although his biography of Schopenhauer is also a great read. Having said that, Magee is not a religious man, in that he stops short of following Schopenauer into the Upanishads and what they reveal about Reality.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Random Facts About Petey and Other Household Gnomes

Let's see, eight random facts about myself. One, I don't work exclusively with Bob. There are others.

Two -- I'm a little lazy today, so I'm just going to quote Adin Steinsaltz -- "The physical world in which we live, the objectively observed universe around us, is only a part of an inconceivably vast system of worlds. Most of these worlds are spiritual in their essence; they are of a different order than the known world. Which does not necessarily mean that they exist somewhere else, but means rather that they exist in different dimensions of being."

I'm pretty much the same way. I'm here, but I'm not here. How to explain.... I'm always here in the same sense that all 200 or whatever it is crappy TV stations are always streaming into your house. They're what we might call "implicate." But you can only tap into one at a time, thereby making the implicate explicate. The multidimensional implicate order is anterior to the explicate order, so that what you folks call "consensus reality" is more of a mutual agreement to limit the implicate order in a certain way. It's all about the existential anxiety, not the Truth. If you want to get at the Truth, you're going to have to tolerate the anxiety of not knowing, not make the anxiety go away with some stupid scientistic-materialistic nonsense.

You know the old line -- "if the doors of perception we cleansed, then everything would appear as it is, infinite." It is such a monstrous conceit for humans to imagine that their puny minds can encompass the very reality that produced them!

Three -- yes, there are higher and lower worlds. I guess this isn't obvious to a leftist, but if any of you saw the "Live Earth" concert on TV, you know all about people who inhabit a lower world. Their language, their music, their feelings, their world view -- all emanate from a lower world. Ironically, most of them aren't even from the earth plane, but a notch or two below that.

The point I'm making is that the words high and low "refer only to the place of any particular world on the ladder of causality. To call a world higher signifies that it is more primary, more basic in terms of being close to a primal source of influence; while a lower world would be a secondary world -- in a sense, a copy. Yet the copy is not just an imitation but rather a whole system, with a more or less independent life of its own, its own variety of experience, characteristics and properties."

This is why the flatlanders -- scientists, atheists, materialists -- can become so enclosed in their abcircular illusions. In a way, their world view is complete (on its own level), and yet, it's radically incomplete (with regard to the whole).

I remember explaining this to Gödel, who sketched it out with ironyclad logic. I say "irony," because his ideas have been highjacked by the psycho-spiritual left to suggest that we cannot make absolute statements about reality, when Gödel and I were making the opposite point about the limitations of logic to express things we know damn well to be true. One such point is that things aren't true because they're logical but logical because they're true. Duh!

Four, being that I was once an embodied and enmentaled man prior to the farming accident, I feel that I am fit to pronounce on this. Human beings live in a world of "action," but imagine that that's where all the action is. Not true.

Allow me to explain. Or better yet, allow Steinsaltz to explain: "The lower part of the world of action is what is known as as the 'world of physical nature' and of more or less mechanical processes -- that is to say, the world where natural law prevails; while above this world of physical nature is another part of the same world which we may call the 'world of spiritual action.'"

Now, what these two realms have in common is the action of Man, since "the human creature is so situated between them that he partakes of both. As part of the physical system of the universe, man is subordinate to the physical, chemical, and biological laws of nature; while from the standpoint of his consciousness, even while this consciousness is totally occupied with matters of a lower order, man belongs to the spiritual world, the world of ideas.... Every aspect of human existence is therefore made up of both matter and spirit."

Five, it is my nature to be a "messenger, to constitute a permanent contact between [your] world of action and the higher worlds. The angel is the one who effects transfers of the vital plenty between worlds."

Six, "An angel's missions go in two directions: it may serve as an emissary of God downward, to other angels and to creatures below the world of formation; and it may also serve as the one who carries things upwards from below, from our world to the higher worlds." You might call us the transpersonal postal service for prayers and the like.

Just to make it clear, it was not I who prompted Bob to steal the Holiday Inn flag. There are "subversive angels" that are actually created by the thoughts and actions of men. I believe Bob calls them "mind parasites." They are contingent objectifications from various vital-emotional domains. Up here we sometimes call them the "tempters." Either that, or the "mesmerers."

Seven, it would be wrong to conclude on the basis of what I have just said that the difference between you and me is that you have a body and I don't. Rather, "the soul of man is most complex and includes a whole world of different existential elements of all kinds, while the angel is a being of a single essence and therefore in a sense one-dimensional." This is why you and I play such different roles in the cosmic economy. You actually have the tougher job, which is to say, because of your "many-sidedness" and your "capacity to to contain contradictions," this makes it possible for you to "rise to great heights," but at the same time "creates the possibility [of] failure and backsliding," neither of which is true for me. Rather, the angel is "eternally the same; it is static, an unchanging existence," "fixed within rigid limits."

You might say that I am already "whole" in space, whereas it is your vocation to become whole in time. Not easy, I realize.

Eight, another way of saying it is that I do not evolve, but you can and must. In other words, there is no evolution here in the vertical, only in the horizontal. In the absence of the horizontal, it's frankly a little boring here -- or as I put it in One Cosmos,

Only himsoph with nowhere to bewrong, hovering over the waters without a kenosis. Vishnu were here, but just His lux, God only knows only God, and frankly, ishwara monotheotenous -- no one beside him, no nous, same old shunyada yada yada.

Well, I could say a lot more, but my understanding is that I only had to come up with eight, so I'm outta here.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Following in the Footsteps of the Tracks I've Buried

To post or not to post.... Probably no time for anything substantive. I did get tagged by Gates of Vienna, so I suppose I can brood on that while waiting for my brain to come on line -- if indeed it does today... I go through these phases when my mind has a mind of its own.

The rules are:

1. Let others know who tagged you.

I already told you. It was Gates of Vienna.

2. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.

Okay.

3. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.

This seems redundant. Why not just combine rules (2) and (3)?

4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

Hmm, let's see... Going down the list in order, Petey, Van, Ben, Cousin Dupree, Robin Starfish, Lisa, Julie, and Mizz E.

Okay, random facts about Bob....

1) In high school I was so in awe of girls, that I don't think I actually spoke to one in any non-official capacity until I took my first sip of beer at 17. That was also the first time I kissed a girl -- just before I spoke to her, in fact -- which is why beer immediately opened up a whole world of possibilities to me. I guess you could say that I've been grateful to it ever since.

2) While on the topic of high school, back then I was so lacking in direction -- or so focussed, depending on your point of view -- that the only professions I could conceive of pursuing were professional baseball player or rock star. Especially after I read the book Ball Four -- the only book I enjoyed (or probably read) in high school -- I could scarcely conceive of doing anything else.

In fact, even if I couldn't be a professional athlete, I vowed to emulate one by avoiding real work, sleeping late, drinking beer with my friends, and maybe even sneaking on to the team hotel roof to try to ogle women (an accomplishment thus far denied me; but one must retain some lofty goals to provide a sense of meaning and purpose).

3) But I went to college anyway, even though I had no earthly idea why I was there except to provide "cover" for the desire to extend my adolescence -- after all, it was just finally getting interesting (see fact #1) -- for as long as possible. I reflexively chose Business Administration as a major, but only because I had no academic interests whatsoever, and thought that I would at least be able to get some kind of a job with a business degree. But I ended up flunking out of college in late 1976. Just prior to that, I had begun working at the supermarket in Malibu, and I found that I much preferred honest physical labor to any kind of intellectual work anyway, in part because I was completely incapable of the latter. I mean that literally. Oddly -- or perhaps not, again, depending on your point of view -- I can see that I was the same person then that I am now.

4) The store in Malibu was located right around the corner from the Sheriff's station. One day, a fellow clerk (PBUH) discovered by chance that the bathroom key also unlocked the front door of the store! The store closed at 9:00 PM, at which time (after the night manager had left) we'd saunter right back into the store and come out with all the fixin's necessary for the Ultimate Party -- beer, giant sandwiches from the deli, beer, etc. This went on for months on end. The sheriffs would just drive by and wave in the distance, as they knew who we were and assumed that our presence relieved them of the need to surveil the store for burglars and the like.

5) I guess I moved out and got my first apartment in 1977. Between then and when I got married in 1987, I moved 13 times. But only because my apartment would inevitably get dirty, no matter how much I ignored the problem.

6) Which reminds me. Eventually store security caught on to the nighttime parking lot revelry, and heads rolled. Fortunately not mine, but my roommate's. At the time, he and I shared a three bedroom condo on the beach in Port Hueneme. Being that he was now unemployed, it was necessary for him to create a new cash stream. Therefore, he converted our unused room into a pot plantation. He purchased one of those 1,000 watt bulbs, and every square inch of the room was covered in 20 gallon containers.

The plants quickly grew to the ceiling, so my roommate's job essentially involved topping the plants every day, toasting them in the oven for a bit, and serving his customers. Now, at the time, I didn't even partake, but I was obviously a very open-minded guy, so I had no fundamental objection to my roommate laying around all day smoking pot, surfing, and converting our condo into a tropical jungle. I wasn't even alarmed when our electricity bill jumped from $20 to $200 a month, not knowing that that is one of the ways The Man busts pot growers.

Normally we kept this giant canvas Holiday Inn flag over the window of the farm, but one night I came home from work and saw that a breeze had blown the flag down. It looked as if the mid-day sun were shining out of our window. I guess only then did I realize the potential peril I was in. So I moved on to my next clean apartment.

7) Some time prior to that, we had taken our first road trip to Vegas -- I and a couple of coworkers. We wanted to get in as much gambling as possible with the least amount of overhead, so we conceived this plan: we would embark from Los Angeles at about 6:00 PM, arriving in Vegas at about 10:00. We'd then gamble for the subsequent 12 hours, and check into our room at 11:00 AM. Then we could sleep all day and gamble again all night. The idea was to get in two full nights of gambling for the price of one!

Look, I'm not saying I'm a genius, or that I'm proud of any of this. I'm just reporting the facts, as they actually occurred.

I was saved from penury the first night by winning a sizable jackpot on a slot machine. But I blew it all the second night on blackjack. By then, it was about 3:00 AM, and my companions had already gone to bed to sleep it off. While shambling down the strip back to our room, I walked toward the Holiday Inn, when I was seized by an unexplainable impulse. Right outside the hotel, there was a little mound with two or possibly three flagpoles, one of which flew a giant Holiday Inn flag. Frankly, from the ground, it didn't look all that big, but for whatever reason, I decided that I wanted it. Now.

So I marched and staggered -- difficult to do at the same time -- up the the rock-covered hillock, unwound the twine, and generally acted like it was my job to draw down the flag. As it got closer, I could see that it was much bigger than I'd imagined -- like 8 by 12 feet.

No one interfered. The flag was secure. So I just walked down the street, looking straight ahead, making no eye contact with any of the sparse passersby.

Made it into the hotel. I was safe with my prize. It was officially mine. Now what? That's the kind of triumph a fellow naturally wants to share with his mates, even if they are technically passed out.

Again, I'm not pretending any of this makes any sense, but at the time, all of my actions were governed by an impulsive logic -- almost an inevitability -- that I fully grasped in an instant. Just prior to that, my friends and I had seen Bruce Springsteen at the Forum. I guess that makes it 1978. Anyway, we were very impressed with his rousing cover version of Buddy Holly's Rave On.

So I draped the Holiday Inn flag around my shoulders like a cape, jumped up on their beds, and began bellowing Rave On, bouncing from one bed to the other.

Wella-wella-well
The little things you say and do,
Make me wanna be with you-a-hoo
Rave on, it's a crazy feeling, and
I know it's got me reeling
When you say, "I love you," well rave on!

8) Hmm, how do you top that.... or sink lower, allowing for the sentiments of my stunned and uncomprehending friends. I'll have to give it some thought. But for some reason, I am reminded of a story about Johnny Cash. On their first major tour of America, U2, who were big fans, wanted to visit him. They had dinner at his mansion in Tennessee, and all held hands together as Johnny led them in a long and elaborate grace. Then he opened his eyes, winked at Bono, and said, "sure do miss the drugs though."

So, fact #8: it's been a long time since I was crazy, but every once in awhile I wish I still was.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pneumanauts & Vertical Adventurers

(I don't think I have time to spell-check... )

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.....

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.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Is This All There Is?

Let's see, it's 1994. I'm in my late 30s, but I guess you could say my life was basically over. Got my Ph.D. by 1988, completed 1500 post doc internship hours, licensed in 1991. That's when I was finally able to devote a little time to writing, so I published a few papers. What's left? I guess I could have kept doing that for the rest of my life.

A commenter yesterday mentioned that he couldn't wait to find out when, where, how and why I was denied tenure, but I was a clinical psychologist, not a research psychologist, so a university job was pretty much out of the question. I could have tried to get a job teaching at a professional school, but as I said, I didn't really have much interest in being a psychologist to begin with, let alone giving the same tired lecture year in, year out.

I was always bothered by this sense of "something more." I guess you could call it a sort of restless passion for eternity with ecstatic tendencies. Ever since I was I child, I could easily be taken "outside of myself," which is the literal meaning of ec-stasy. Isn't everyone like this? I don't know. They certainly don't seem to be. Or if they are, they tend to be on the sociopathic end of the continuum, with poor boundaries and a lot of undisciplined acting out. In my case, I suppose it was more like "acting in."

I was obviously already embarked on a kind of intense interior adventure, but it was starting to seem increasingly idiosyncratic, since I couldn't really find anyone else who shared my passions. Maybe it was time to just grow up and get over it.

As I mentioned yesterday, my wife's grandmother died in 1994, and we attended the funeral in New York. Afterwards there was a reception at the house, which is where I ran into the conservative Jewish mystic I mentioned yesterday. David must have been about ten years older than I. I don't even remember what connection he had to my wife's grandmother, but we initially got to talking about politics. Again, at that point in my life, I was still an unconscious moonbat, to such an extent that I was exactly like contemporary moonbats who feel completely free to attack President Bush in a public setting, obliviously confident that everyone feels the same way.

The details aren't important, but David calmly but firmly stood up to all my blather. Usually I prevailed in an argument by simply overpowering the other person, but this guy stood his ground and politely pointed out the fundamental errors in my thinking, even though I wasn't ready to hear them and reflexively held my ground.

But then we got to talking about my dissertation and some of the papers I'd written, and he took a deep interest. Rarely did I meet someone who shared my passion for cosmic wholeness, or who was familiar with the ideas and authors I was drawn to, but he was. He asked me to send him some of my material, so I did. A couple of months later he wrote back that he had read my papers, but

"not enough times to grasp every nuance; they are challenging reads inasmuch as we use different nomenclature to describe the same phenomena.... What struck me most about the articles was the conspicuous absence of the 'G-word,' as if this implicate-explicate phenomenon simply floated in existence without some type of origin, anchor or glue. For this reason, I don't regard Freud's secular 'deeper reality' as adequately deep, especially as it fails to encompass a separate intelligence partially ordering some brain functions. The strange thing is, I agree with many of your basic assumptions; however, it felt to me like reading a description of a large, grey quadruped with a trunk by someone determined not to say, 'elephant.'"

This was a good insight, for I suppose I was attempting to be a "rational" or "naturalistic" mystic. I didn't just have the "Jesus willies," but the "religion willies," and even "God willies." Therefore, he was right. It was as if I were writing about God and religion in the absence of God and religion.

He continued:

".... I am going to break one of my rules and offer unsolicited personal advice. I do so because a subtext emerged from your writing: your own spiritual quest. I know you are eager to experience spiritual enlightenment and I think I might be able to share a handy tip or two."

"Your powerful intelligence has already taken you close to illumination, further than most will ever go. However, these same powers of reason, analysis and skepticism, which feel so appropriate and natural, still seem to me to block your direct experience and integration of the non-rational, or implicate, if you prefer. (I base this presumption not only on your writing, but our conversation in which you expressed agnostic sentiments and used deprecating adjectives such as 'just' and 'only' to refer to the Creator of existence.) You have already made a conscious attempt to balance ego and intuition. Nonetheless, the ego still has further subordination to undergo to get it out of the way and allow the light of illumination to break into awareness."

First of all, I didn't believe the line about "your powerful intelligence has already taken you close to illumination, further than most will ever go." However, I suppose it did cause me to take my own ideas a little more seriously. As I mentioned yesterday, by that point in my life, I was beginning to be left with the distinct sense that "no one else I think is in my tree." I felt as if I were on this passionate adventure, but no one else seemed to share the passion, so I was beginning to think I was just a kind of hopeless eccentric, a Raccoon without portfolio.

There's obviously a lot more, but now I'm really late. To be continued.... unless this is just too self-indulgent....

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Autobobography of a Yogi

How, you might ask, did Bob get mixed up with yoga? Easy. I began reading Ken Wilber from the time of his first book, the Spectrum of Consciousness. I guess I was in graduate school at the time, and I suppose it was the first book that really opened me up to the expansiveness and the possibilities of religion (even though Wilber has greatly revised his thinking since the time of this book). I'm guessing that my book will do the same thing for some people who stumble upon it -- that is, if it just succeeds in inspiring a few people to take religion seriously, then it will have accomplished its purpose.

One thing Wilber always emphasized is that one must follow a tradition and stick with it. You can't just dabble or avoid real commitment, in part because commitment is one of the things that begins to change you. But there's a Zen saying, "chase two rabbits, catch none," which is why it's best to follow one path down the rabbit hole.

At the time, there is just no way I could have chosen Christianity. Actually, I was initially drawn to Zen, since it seemed the most free of dogma, and it also has that counter-cultural vibe that is the mother's milk of adultolescent liberalism. It's cool, and I just wouldn't have had any interest in an uncool religion. Remember, this is the mid-1980s. I'm a liberal with a full-blown case of Reagan Derangement Syndrome. It's embarrassing to admit, but I was no different than today's crazy liberals who are afraid of the "Christian-fascists."

But I really didn't get anywhere with Zen. When you come right down to it, it's pretty austere. Basically you 1) sit and 2) wait for enlightenment -- all the while knowing that very few people actually experience the state, often not even the teachers! So it amounts to "faith in enlightenment," which, now that I think about it, is what I actually had. I knew that I didn't know, but I knew that some people knew. No, I had never actually met one of these people who know, but I knew they must be out there. Knowing that someone was once enlightened served the same functional purpose as knowing that someone was once resurrected.

So let's see. I only finished graduate school in 1988. At the time, I was still working in the supermarket, where I'd been since 1976. My dissertation wasn't exactly spiritual but it was definitely visionary, and capacious enough to allow for a spiritual view of the cosmos. It's full grandiose title was Psychoanalysis, Post-Modern Physics, and the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution: Toward a Rapprochement of Mind and Nature.

The word "rapprochement" was actually a bit of wordplay, since it is a psychoanalytic term for the period of early development when the child is ambivalently working out his independence from the mother. If you look at evolution on a cosmic scale, it's as if consciousness was teased out of the maternal matrix of nature, eventually resulting in the proud two year-olds of the Enlightenment who imagined that they were completely separate and autonomous from mother nature. In other words, the dualistic view causes us to imagine that there is this sharp divide between mind and nature, in the same way that the two year-old begins to think he's completely separate from the parents.

But I wanted to show that, based upon the findings of modern physics, there was no avoiding the conclusion that the universe was conscious, and that this consciousness was thoroughly entangled throughout -- like cream hidden within the milk, as some enlightened guy once said. I ended up publishing two papers out of the dissertation in 1991 and 1994. A Raccoon recently read the one from 1991, and can testify that I am indeed Master of the Universe and that I discovered the Key to the World Enigma almost 20 years ago now, even though only he and I and Josephine Bernstein know it.

What, might you ask, does this have to do with psychoanalysis? Well, first of all it was a theoretical dissertation, which relieved me of the burden of relying upon facts, data, or reality in general. As I said, "visionary" -- perhaps not as visionary as the art of Yoko Ono, but in that realm.

But what I was trying to demonstrate, gosh darn it -- here, let me dig out a copy of the paper from 1991 -- it's called Wilfred Bion and David Bohm: Toward a Quantum Metapsychology -- well, first of all, it starts with a little quotation from one of the great physicists of the 20th century, Werner Heisenberg, who says "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."

Sounds like nice rhetoric, doesn't it? But this guy believed it. Like so may of the pre-eminent physicists of the 20th century -- Einstein, Schroedinger, DeBroglie, Jeans, Planck, Pauli, Eddington, the Professor on Gilligan's Island -- their explorations of matter led them to the conclusion -- more or less -- that matter not only had mind-like qualities, but that the discoveries of physics were entirely compatible with a mystical view of the cosmos -- which is probably how the professor was able to make a transistor radio out of a belt buckle, some seaweed, and couple of coconut shells. Wilber put out a helpful book that contains the mystical writings of these men, entitled Quantum Questions.

But where these eggheads were vague, I wanted to be specific. So that's what my dissertation was about -- showing the exact parallels between metaphysics and metapsychology. That paper from 1991 "explores the relationship between the order of the universe and that of the mind," the purpose being "to forge an interdisciplinary dialogue in which modes of thought from these apparently divergent fields might integrate and enrich one another, in contrast to our present state of affairs in which physics and psychology are basically irrelevant (if not antagonistic) to one another."

So where's my Nobel Prize for this fact-filled guessathon of experimental non-fiction? Where's the recognition for this logical and coherent absurdity, fully loaded with all the optional equipment?

There was recognition. It was called the Dr. Josephine Bernstein Memorial Award for Research and Dissertation Excellence. So I definitely had one supporter, one kindred spirit, but she was dead. Now what? In an early post I mentioned that I had to give a little speech at the graduation ceremony. I still have a copy of it tucked away in my dissertation. 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. 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.”

*****

So that was 1988. Right after that I finally quit the supermarket to try to establish a career as a psychologist, despite the fact that being a retail clerk came much more naturally to me. So I thought, well, I guess I should start to try to publish some papers. That's what people do to get a reputation and not perish, right? So I did that, even though I couldn't help concluding that, in the words of John Lennon, "no one I think is in my tree."

Then, in 1994, at my wife's grandmother's funeral, I met a strange man who was to change the course of my life. Of all things, he was what you might call a "conservative mystic," and yet, he wasn't a nazi. In fact, he was Jewish.

Well, I'm flat out of time. To be continued.

And good night Dr. Josephine Bernstein, wherever you are.