Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What'd I Say?, Part 2

The innerview with Sigmund, Carl and Alfred continues. I don’t know that all the answers will be as windy as the first, but the windbag bloweth where it will, so we’ll see. Fortunately, he doesn't charge by the word.

Q: Are morals and ethics really “moving targets”?

A: No, I think they are stable targets toward which we are drawn. Spiritual evolution -- or devolution -- is a measure of how close or distant we are to these ideals.

The concept of objective morality confuses a lot of people, because they conflate the realm from which morality arises with the realm in which we physically exist. But the two realms are clearly not identical. Rather, part of the “human project,” so to speak, is to bring these two worlds into accord. This is the meaning of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In the esoteric understanding, the dichotomy of heaven and earth symbolizes the ontological vertical divide, without which we truly would be condemned to a meaningless flatland existence: a journey from nothing to nowhere with a handful of gimme in between.

But the essence of our humanness involves our ability to intuit the realm of the real -- to distinguish between appearance and reality (or what are called maya and brahman in Hindu metaphysics). Remember, in genuine philosophy, the "ultimate real" does not refer to the constantly changing material world, but to the abiding reality behind it. Platonic realism refers to any school of thought that attributes reality to general ideas that are considered universal.

For example, most truly great mathematicians, if they are of a philosophical bent and reflect upon what they do, are more or less Platonists. Although great mathematicians possess a promethean creativity, at the same time, they know that they are not “inventing” anything. Rather, there is a deep and abiding sense that they are discovering permanent truths that exist in a mind-like dimension of the cosmos.

But where are these truths before the mathematician discovers them? Not only are they real, but in a certain sense, they are somehow more real than the world to which they give rise. In other words, these equations reflect the enduring reality behind shifting appearances. A cosmos -- which means "order"-- is not possible without them.

It is the same with modern physics. There is a helpful little book entitled Quantum Questions: The Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists, compiled by Ken Wilber, who, by the way, has been stalking me for years and tapping my phones, but I really don't want to get into that right now. The book demonstrates how all these formidable scientific minds -- Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Planck, Pauli, Eddington, et al -- arrived at a mystical or transcendental world view that regards the world as ineluctably spiritual and conscious rather than merely dead and material. Among other things, they could not reconcile the awesome beauty of the timeless mathematical world they had discovered with any deity-free cosmos.

Again, as I mentioned yesterday, this kind of natural theology only gets you so far, because one cannot necessarily equate the “God of the philosophers” with the God of the Bible or the Upanishads. But it is certainly enough, in my view, to grant that latter God an interview. After all, it’s a pretty impressive resume. If he wrote the laws of physics, who's to say that he couldn’t have inscribed the moral law within our hearts?

Again we return to the question of objectivity. Either morals are objectively true in the sense described above, or they are merely human agreements with an "enjoy by" date stamped onto them. But even when people have bad morals, such as the Islamists, they never regard them that way. Nor, as everyone knows, does the secular leftist ever regard his morality as an ephemeral thing of convenience. To the contrary, because the leftist collapses the vertical hierarchy of heaven and earth, he embarks on the urgent project of enforcing his morals by any means necessary, even if the means are grossly immoral, as history demonstrates ad nauseam with any leftist regime. The further left, the more immoral the government, all in the name of superior morality.

To point out a banality that may be news to some, both nazis and communists are left wing, in that they are both polar opposites of the classical liberalism of the American founders. What we call the modern conservative intellectual movement is specifically attempting to conserve the revolutionary spirit of our liberal founders, whereas what we call contemporary liberalism has an entirely different intellectual genealogy, in that it is always traceable to some form or aspect of Marxism. And as I have pointed out a number of times, please do not equate the conservative movement with “Republicanism,” as (tragically) there are very few philosophical conservatives among our elected representatives.

So the question is, who moves? Humans, or their moral targets? In the West, our primordial moral target is known as the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, which were appropriately engraved in stone by God. Nowadays, many secularized folks obviously have difficulty accepting these commandments as anything other than a quaint, antiquated, and somewhat arbitrary list of do’s and don’ts. But in my book, I have a section in which I attempt to demonstrate their vital contemporary relevance, not just in their exterior aspect, but in their inner significance. For not only are the Commandments horizontal rules for governing man-to-man relations, but they also have an interior dimension that communicates timeless, state-of-the-art advice on how to achieve spiritual progress.

In that section of the book, I outline the universal applicability of the Ten Commandments for extreme seekers, off-road spiritual aspirants, omsteaders, and cosmonauts of whatever vertical path. In other words, we are again dealing with something that partakes of timeless truth. This in itself is a rather profound mystery, because how, in the absence of divine intervention, could a primitive and barbaric tribe of nomads possibly have come up with these timeless truths that would still apply some 2,500 years into the future?

You try coming up with something that will still be relevant in a few years, let alone a few thousand, like the Honeymooners or the Andy Griffith show with Don Knotts. It's not easy. In all honesty, the gap between man in his barbaric and pre-civilized state vis-à-vis the sublime moral and psycho-spiritual laws encoded in the Commandments or the Andy Griffith show is essentially infinite and unbridgeable by any mere Darwinian “just so story.” I mean, if you can believe that, what won’t you believe? (As implied in the descryption beneath the title of this blog, I believe in both Darwinian [horizontal] and Darwhiggian [vertical] evolution.)

This reminds me of when I was frantically trying to finish my book, just over three years ago. The deadline was approaching, and at the last minute I had disassembled the entire last chapter and was in the process of trying to put it back together again. Among other things, I was attempting to come up with a suitable big bang-up ending, and I thought to myself, “why not show how the Ten Commandments and the Upanishads, understood esoterically, convey the identical perennial psycho spiritual know-how and be-who to serious seekers -- that they represent two independent views of the same transcendent reality? Call them the ten ‘Commanishads’ or ‘Upanishalts.’”

As soon as I thought of it, I knew that it was possible, although don’t ask me how I knew that I knew. However, I needed help. At the time, I happened to be on a plane flying back from New York to L.A, after having visited my brother-in-law and nephew. I was on the right plane, because I needed a rabbi in a hurry, and there is always a rabbi on a flight from New York. Normally I’m not the kind of guy who just walks up to to a total stranger and introduces himself, but something came over me. Being Jewish, I knew that he would have no choice but to be kind to this cosmic stranger on the esoteric plane.

I had seen this fellow enter the plane, and if he wasn’t a rabbi, then he was hardcore Orthodox, and that was good enough for me. Nobody dresses like that on a slightly sweltering plane. I walked down the aisle to where he was sitting, absently flipping through a magazine, and blurted out, “are you a rabbi?” He seemed a little farmisht at first, but he could tell at a glance that I wasn't Arab, and I explained to him that this was a spiritual emergency and that I needed some immediate assistance. He didn’t know anything about the Upanishads, but when I mentioned that some people believe that “Abraham” and “Brahman” might be etymologically related, he was intrigued. (I have no idea if that’s true, but at least it got the conversation going.) I knew we were on the same wavelength when he started his shpiel by saying that the first five commandments have to do with man’s relationship to God, while the second five govern man’s relationship to man. “Hey, vertical and horizontal! You 'da mensch!”

So to sum it all up, no spiritual progress is possible without the cultivation of virtue, the closing of the gap between us and our highest ideals. "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." But not arbitrarily. Timeless moral truths are the luster of the eternal target to which our lives are properly aimed. Or as some old seerslacker said, "Affix to the Upanishad, the bow incomparable, the sharp arrow of devotional worship; then, with mind absorbed and heart melted in love, draw the arrow and hit the mark -- the imperishable Brahman."

Say, did I mention that Brahman and Abraham are etymologically related?

Damn, that’s only the second question. Nine more to go. I don’t mean to be so verbose, but... To tell you the truth, Doc, this is one of the reasons why we’re here to see you. Frankly, Petey thinks I talk too much, especially for someone who “knows so little,” as he puts it. He recently alerted me to this new feature on amazon. It supposedly shows that only seven percent of the books in the world have more words per sentence than I do, and apparently most of them are written by a guy named Heidegger, which, I must tell you, is a bit of an insult, because I always thought Heidegger was a sort of mystagogic blowhard, not at all like me, whom in all modesty I consider a model of brevity compared to that Teutonic freak who goes on and on and on about the being of being and the nothingness that nothingness nihilates and how the self creates both the absence it presents and the presentation from which it is absent and how the self is both nothingness and the source of the nullity it embodies in public space and how the nothing "nothings" and how only the nothing nothings and how nothing can derive from something as if by a slow decay of the ding an sich or whatever you call it. Go ahead, Doc. You tell Petey. I don’t write that way, do I? Do I? Well?

Monday, July 30, 2007

What about Bob?

While I ponder the future of the blog, and vice versa, I think I'll just repost this interview of me. That way, I won't have to pretend to not be repeating myself.


Petey and I have been bickering again, so we decided to consult a professional about it. ShrinkWrapped won’t return our calls and Dr. Sanity wants to charge us double for "multiple personality," but Sigmund, Carl and Alfred at least consented to interview us and ask a few preliminary questions.

Q: Your book, One Cosmos Under God, has been very well received. One reviewer wrote, “Daring to venture where language cannot go, One Cosmos Under God actually begins in the 'mind of God' prior to creation, and culminates in the 'mind of the saint' who has transcended the culturally conditioned ego, awakened from the nightmare of history, and merged with the divine mind."

Did you wish to look into the mind of God, or converse with God? Did you accomplish either?

A: First of all, I would say that I suppose the book has been well received where it has been received. Then again, if it were to fall into the hands of the unreceptive, it would undoubtedly be poorly received, so I suppose I should be grateful for its limited exposure.

At any rate, it is very difficult to get the word out about a book when you have a relatively small publisher. They pretty much rely on the author to publicize it, which was one of the original limited purposes of the blog -- to somehow spead the weird so it wouldn’t just die a completely anonymous death and be buried in a pauper’s grave of remainders, right alongside John Kerry’s remarkably acrobatic work of autofellatiography, A Call to Service Myself.

Which would be a shame, because there is a narrow segment of the population for whom my book will be just what they have been searching for, if only they could somehow stumble upon it. But as is often the case, if this Bob-person person who wrote the book were capable of marketing it, he couldn't have written it.

One of the central purposes of the book and blog is to give intelligent, sophisticated, and even thoroughly ironicized postmodern folks a way to think about religion instead of dismissing it out of hand. To paraphrase the inimitable ethnobotanist and psychedelic mushroomologist Terence McKenna's reaction to his mother upon reading The Doors of Perception as a 10 year-old boy, "if just ten pecent of this is true, we've got to do something about it!" This appreciation of traditional religion has been one of the great surprises of my life, and to a certain extent, the structure of the book reflects this. It begins with an exhumination of the scientific evidence, which leads to the ineluctable conclusion that there is some sort of transcendent, nonlocal intelligence undergirding the cosmos, but what kind?

It’s pretty easy to prove the existence of this intelligence, or transcendent logos, at least if you are inclined to believe the evidence, although no amount of reason or evidence will sway the person who is truly hostile to religion. Militant atheists are generally obligatory atheists, meaning that they are driven by an unconscious agenda that is unknown to them. For whatever developmental reason, they are anti-theists, hung up on their absentee God, the empty space where God should be but isn’t.

I was once an atheist, but not the obligatory kind. Rather, I was open to the evidence and eventually realized that, in order to discover God, one must respect the tome-tested means for doing so. In other words, many people believe that you need to first believe in God in order to be religious. However, it’s generally the other way around. In order to know God, you must be religious. Religion -- real religion -- is a way to make the reality of God present in your life.

In a way, it's similar to psychoanalysis, at least as understood by one of my mentors, W. R. Bion. Scholars can argue back and forth about whether or not the unconscious exists, and make plausible arguments on both sides. But the only way to really find out is to undergo some form of psychoanalytic therapy, in which you personally “discover” the unconscious. Psychoanalytic therapy is a way to make the unconscious present in a stable circumstance, so that it can be “observed,” so to speak. It will inevitably appear in the transitional space between patient and therapist. But in reality, the same unconscious, just like God, is always popping up “wherever two people meet.” In this regard, the unconscious cannot not be. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re going to pay attention to it.

It is the same with God. As a matter of fact, God also cannot not be. People generally begin at the wrong end of the teleoescape, trying to prove to themselves whether or not God exists. That’s not the problem. The problem, which some astute philosophers have realized, is whether or not, and to what extent, we exist. For example, there are still many philosophers who will argue that free will doesn’t exist, or that the mind is merely a computer, or that knowledge is not possible. If any of those statements are true, then human beings don’t actually exist except as an illusion, or perhaps only in a strange and ethereal tenured form that somehow collects a paycheck while actualy doing nothing.

An even better analogy would be music. As a matter of fact, I employ many musical analogies in the book. As an aside, it’s just amazing how many mysteries of the cosmos are unlocked by the existence of music. I have always been a great music lover, and now I see that, even in my atheistic days, it was one of the things that kept me connected to Spirit, for music is a spiritual transmission, pure and simple. Great music casts a luster of noetic light from one world into this one, somehow riding piggyback on vibrations of air. No one knows how or why this should be so in a species that was simply selected by evolution to hunt for food and sexual partners. Why on earth should vibrating air molecules be beautiful, even to the point of moving one to tears or to ecstasy?

Imagine two deaf people arguing over whether or not music exists. Perhaps one of them even discovers a musical score and considers it proof positive that music must exist. He decides that this musical score represents the inerrant notes of the great God-musician, and founds a musical school based on the score, in order to transmit the musical teaching to others.

But the point, of course, is not to study the score but to be moved by the music. The score is pointless unless it achieves the purpose of making music present. It must be read, performed, and understood experientially, not theoretically. Where was music before humans made it present? Roughly speaking, it was in the same place God is before you make him present. I don’t mean to sound flip, but this is why it is so easy to find God, because the finding is in the seeking. Don’t worry. If you seek earnestly and sincerely, you will soon enough find, just as, if you pick up a guitar and learn a few chords, you will soon be able to play Smoke on the Water. You will be able to start making music present, in however a limited degree. And as you practice, you will be able to make more and more music present -- music that would not have existed had you not gone to the trouble of practicing and bringing it into being.

So orthoparadoxically, the living God cannot exist unless we give birth to him (which is why we are here -- or so we have heard from the wise). Just as there are a few musicians who stand above the rest in terms of “making music present,” there are people known as saints, sages, avatars and gurus who are, for whatever reason, much more able to “make God present.” To a certain extent this is a matter of taste. This is not to say that revelation is arbitrary or relative, any more than great music is. But in my case, for example, I really cannot tap into the depth of classical music. Although I can "know" that Beethoven’s late string quartets contain unfathomable, even superhuman, depth, it is inaccessible to me. In my case, the spirit comes through loud and clear in Van Morrison or in certain post-bop jazz artists such as John Coltrane, the latter of whom many listeners might categorize as “noise.”

One of the innovations of Christianity was to present the reality of God in such a way that people could wrap their minds around it. The Jewish God was so utterly transcendent as to be inaccessible to the average Joseph. Most of us need the Abbasolute to be made accessible to us in a relative form, so that we may think about what is otherwise unthinkable. Of course, Judaism accomplishes this in a different manner, through the study of Torah, which you might say is the Word made word instead of flesh.

Given the fact that well over ninety percent of people in the ancient world were illiterate, one can well understand how God might have conceived the idea of extending the courtesy of making himself available to the everyone in a more direct and unmediated manner. Although inter-religious dialogue can obviously be a sensitive area, I happen to know some Jews who are able to reconconcile Judaism with Christianity by viewing it as the ideal way to have spread Jewish monotheism.

Likewise, many Christians recognize that Jesus could only have appeared in Jewish culture. He would have made no sense whatsoever to the ancient Aztec, to polytheists, or the New York Times editorial board.

Back to your first (!) question, “Did you wish to look into the mind of God, or converse with God? Did you accomplish either?”

Terence McKenna also once said that “it is no great accomplishment to hear a voice in the head. The accomplishment is to make sure it’s telling you the truth.” When you come right down to it, all revelation -- whether personal and idiosyncratic or collective and canonized -- originates in a “voice in the head,” so to speak. Behind the Biblical canon are a bunch of very special loose cannons to whom God revealed himself. How do we know it’s true or reliable?

This is an epistemological question that really applies to all knowledge, whether secular or religious. How do we know it’s true? What reason do we have for relying upon it? Here again, we are confronted with an inevitable degree of subjectivity. But that doesn’t mean that we should equate “subjective” with “arbitrary” or “unprovable.”

There is a story about one of the great Hindu sages of the 20th century, Sri Krishna Prem. He was plowing through a number of books that had been sent to him, each expressing this or that writer’s particular teaching. He tossed one of them to a disciple, and said “Take a look at that.”

When the disciple finished reading it, Krishna Prem asked, “Well, is it there?”

“Is what there,” the disciple fumbled.

“The thing,” Krishna Prem replied. “Is the thing, the spirit, in that book?’

“How should I know?,” the disciple countered.

“But you must know. You must be able to recognize whether he is writing from experience or whether it’s just words, hearsay.”

“Some of the things he says seem true,” the disciple ventured.

The disciple continues: "Krishna Prem’s reply was devastating. ‘One can’t write anything on this subject without saying something that isn’t true. What you must see is whether the truth shines through the words or whether they are platitudes, words repeated by rote. Look behind the words. Feel!'”

“I felt as might a man blind from birth suddenly ordered to see.... He might as well have said ‘fly.’ That was the way he treated me, forcing me to see that it was not just a matter of having a superior mind or of my not knowing the jargon, but that there was a range of perception of a different order which he had and I had not. And since he never pretended to be anything other than an ordinary man, I could not take refuge in the plea that he was extraordinary and that nothing could be expected of ordinary mortals like me.”

So, back to my book. Petey and I are obviously ordinary men, no different than anyone else, except that one of us is disembodied. And yet, we tried very hard to accomplish what Sri Krishna Prem is talking about, not by being extraordinary, but mostly by getting out of the way. I, in particular, wanted the book not just to be about ideas conveyed from mind to mind. Anyone can do that. Rather -- especially in certain parts -- my goal was to “make present” that which I was writing about, just as if I were performing music.

Did it work? I suppose for some readers. I’ve received enough “personal testimony” to know this. And this, much more than any material success (which the book will probably never really achieve), is profoundly gratifying to me, for it means that I am no longer just a music aficionado. To some limited extent I am actually able to play it, and no one is more surprised about this than I am. Not to say humbled. But it did take a lot of practice. To the extent that I am able to help people, I like to think that it's just because I've already taken the next music lesson, so I'm maybe a week ahead of my readers. But don't tell anybody. I need to preserve a little mystique.

Wow. That’s only the first of eleven questions. I’m not sure Sigmund, Carl and Alfred know what they’ve gotten themselves into. No wonder ShrinkWrapped won’t return our calls.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Your Father Says You're Grounded For Eternity!

The rivers return to the place from whence they flowed, so that they may flow again. --Eccl 1:7

Yesterday we touched on Eckhart's understanding of the ground where the divine and human meet. As McGinn explains, a fruitful way to understand Eckhart's thinking "is through the dynamic reciprocity of the 'flowing forth' of all things from the hidden ground of God, and the 'flowing back,' or 'breaking through,' of the universe into essential identity with this divine source."

This is obviously a different way of looking at reality, but this eternally circular flow is what I was attempting to convey with the abcircularity of my book, which ends in the middle of the sentence it begins with. It is not so much a horizontal circularity as a vertical one, in that it is the essential structure of each now, in which an entire cosmos comes into being and vanishes back into the ground from whence it came.

The river flows,
It flows to the sea
Wherever that river flows
Is where I want to be.
--Ballad of Easy Rider, the Byrds

Eckhart wrote that the "first grace" "consists in a type of flowing out, a departure from God," while "the second consists in a type of flowing back, a return to God himself." This may not be entirely kosher, but he spoke of how the Father is the "Principle," while the Son is the "Principle from the Principle" -- "Principle" referring to the "ideal reason" within God, "in which the essences of all things are precontained in a higher, or virtual way." He wrote that "what is produced or proceeds from anything is precontained in it. This is universally and naturally true, both in the Godhead and in natural and artificial things."

Elsewhere Eckhart speaks of a maternal aspect of the Creator, who is "eternally pregnant in his foreknowledge of creation": "before the foundation of the world, everything in the universe was not a mere nothing, but was in possession of virtual existence." But he draws a sharp distinction between God and Godhead, noting that "God acts, while the Godhead does not act." McGinn adds that "In the Godhead God 'un-becomes,' so that this ground must be described as pure possibility, the unmoving precondition of all activity..." Again, God's becoming is his "flowing out," while our return is his "flowing back," or "unbecoming."

This got me to thinking about the nature of this strange cosmos, which has hatched beings capable of pondering its own strangeness. In his book Mortality and Morality: A Search for God After Auschwitz, Jonas talks about the tendency of nature "beginning from structures of a lower order, to create a higher order such as we know. The hypothesis [is] that at the universe's moment of origin (the so-called 'Big Bang') there had also arisen, apart from the total energy of the cosmos, the information that would lead to further developments." Therefore, the Big Bang already contained a "'cosmogonic logos,' an idea that makes room for the concept of a 'cosmogonic eros'...."

The cosmos begins with the mystery of matter and proceeds to the mystery of subjectivity that has somehow arisen "from" or "through" matter. As such, as Jonas points out, the universe evolves from the outer to the inner: "historically, from the earlier to the later; quantitatively, from the most frequent to the rarest; structurally, from the simplest to the most complex; developmentally from seeing and feeling to thinking. Then from that which is innermost, rarest, and latest we turn back to that which is first of all, which even preceded matter."

As we inquire into the nature of "universal matter," we must ask: "From what principle of progress can its development -- that of the whole cosmos and then especially of the Earth up to the most subtle forms of the organic world -- be explained?" For Jonas, the answer is a kind of "universal information," or "cosmogonic logos." As far as we know, information is something that must be "stored" in a differentiated and stable physical substrate, but the Big Bang had no time to store anything and no place to store it, since time and matter didn't exist.

The ascent of nature might be able to be explained naturalistically if it produced machine-like entities with no "residue," so to speak. But as we know from our own experience, this is far from the case, "for there exists the dimension of the subjective -- inwardness -- which no material evidence by itself allows us to surmise, of whose actual presence no physical model offers the slightest hint." "Nor would the fullest description of the brain, down to its minutest structures and most delicate ways of functioning, provide any clue of the existence of consciousness, if we did not know about it through our own inner experience -- precisely through consciousness itself."

Jonas was one of my inspirations in attempting in my book to analyze the human phenomenon on a cosmological basis -- in particular, subjectivity, or the "interior horizon," as an irreducible ontological fact. As Jonas writes, "it is universal matter itself which, in becoming inward, finds its voice in subjectivity. Matter's most astounding accomplishment may not be denied it in any account of Being." Science proceeds by abstracting certain qualities from matter, by "quantifying" it, but these are only abstractions. They are not the reality, which clearly transcends -- or subtends -- the abstractions.

Therefore, at the very least, "we must grant to matter that developed from the Big Bang... an original endowment with the possibility of eventual inwardness.... matter must have been more than what physicists ascribe to it in their speculation on the beginning of things and what can be derived from that for the development of the cosmos."

Now, the question is, who endowed matter in this way, and did this endowment have anything to do with the manner in which cosmic events unrolled in time? In pondering this question, I suppose it is somewhat bizarre to think that our own thinking could solve the problem, but even more bizarre to think that it couldn't. This is because, as Jonas points out, it is difficult to imagine that our subjectivity is an entirely indifferent and "neutral contingency whose occurrence involved no favoring preferment of any kind."

In short, "since finality -- striving for a goal -- occurs in a certain natural being in a manifestly subjective way and becomes effective there in an objectively causal manner, it cannot be entirely foreign to nature, which brought forth precisely this kind of being.... It follows from this that final causes, but also values and value distinctions, must be included in the (not utterly neutral) concept of the cause of the universe... "

Well, I don't really have time to wrap this up, so I'll have to continue tomorrow. I'll just leave you with a quote from McGinn: "Just as creation, for Eckhart, is a continuous and eternal process, so too the Word taking on flesh is not a past event we look back to in order to attain salvation, but rather is an everpresent hominification of God and deification of humanity and the universe -- an incarnatio coninua."

What in carnation? He expectorated a mirrorcle, now you're the spittin' image! You haven't perceived the hologram to your private particle? Come in, open his presence and report for karmic duty.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Does God Suffer With You? Or Will He Skip this Post?

... Everything that is true, whether in being or in knowing, in scripture or in nature, proceeds from one source and one root of truth.... Therefore, Moses, Christ, and the Philosopher [e.g., Plato] teach the same thing, differing only in the way they teach, namely as worthy of belief, as probable and likely, and as truth. --Meister Eckhart

We had a couple of thoughtful dissenters yesterday with regard to the cosmic evolutionary view envisioned by Teilhard de Chardin, which is perfectly understandable. Few theological issues are of more consequence, and I make no claims to be a theologian, much less a Christian one. I'm just a... a guy with a weird hobby.

One reader wrote that,

"The trouble with Teilhard is that he was thinking and writing when it looked like the 'science' of Darwinian evolution stood on unassailable ground. I believe we're within a couple of decades of that theory finally being recognized for the red herring that it truly is. To the extent that theologians bought into the 'truth' of Darwinistic science, and attempted to mix theology and evolution, it is to that extent that they've tainted their theological thinking with a fairly spurious principle."

Respectfully, I don't see it that way at all. First, you will notice that I do not refer to a "Darwinian cosmos" but to an evolutionary one. For some reason, evolution and natural selection have become synonymous, but they are not. Natural selection is merely a theory that attempts to account for the fact of biological evolution. In my view it is woefully inadequate to account for the whole of it (let alone cosmic evolution), but that doesn't mean that biological evolution has not occurred or that natural selection doesn't play some role in it, which I believe it clearly does.

One reason I believe in cosmic evolution is that in its absence, nothing makes any sense at all. It is a central pillar to everything else we know to be true of the cosmos, something like the foundation of a house. If you remove it, the whole house collapses. Everything from antibiotics to the computer you're staring at is ultimately rooted in an evolutionary cosmos. For example, the same physical forces that are harnessed to operate a computer inform us that the cosmos is approximately 13.7 billion years old, give or take. If the cosmos isn't expanding, then your computer shouldn't work. These physical forces are all tied together in a beautifully harmonious way.

The point is, if one is going to propose an alternate theory of any kind, the new theory must be able to account for the phenomena without "unexplaining" what the old theory explained. For example, there are many conspiracy theories that attempt to explain "who really killed JFK." But each and every one of them unexplains what the Warren Commission report explained so well -- that JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald alone.

It is the same with evolution. You can believe in the "conspiracy theory" that the cosmos is fixed and final, but in order to consistently believe that, you have to throw out 99% of what we know about reality. And would God really create a cosmos that is so fundamentally deceptive that we cannot comprehend it with our reason? Why? What kind of God is that?

The commenter continues, "I do, however, like the emphasis that the Unknown Friend, who also wrote at a time when Darwinism seemed unassailable, placed on the idea that evolution is what we see in a fallen world. He does not, however see God Himself as something evolving to self-realization, as far as I can remember."

First, nowhere did I suggest that "God himself" evolves. Nevertheless, the first thing one must understand about God is that he is both transcendent and immanent; he is both present in all "things" and transcendent of them. Or as Eckhart wrote, "The more He is in things, the more He is out of things; the more in, the more out, the more out, the more in.... God's going out is his going in." And if God is present in all things, then he is ipso facto present in time, because things can only exist in time. Perhaps a less deceptive way to put it is that "nothing is not God." Therefore, to the extent that something is evolving, then God is evolving along with it. However, being that "all is God," it's ultimately just God playing hide and seek with himself -- it is transcendence playing at immanence.

After all, how else are we to even begin to understand the principle of the Word becoming flesh? What can this possibly mean if not the transcendent God becoming immanent in living, breathing humanity? Does anything change within God as a result of this drama? Or is God completely remote from his own activity?

Again, the only way around this paradox is to posit two aspects or "faces" of God. God is genuinely here in the creation, suffering and struggling with the rest of us. Indeed, a Christian must believe that God relinquished -- so to speak -- an aspect of his Godhood in order to do this -- to fully give himself over to his own creation. Christ's passion makes no sense at all if it did not involve a complete self-abandonment to the world. And yet, his transcendence ultimately makes him "victorious" over it. In the words of Eckhart -- which are always easy to misunderstand --

In Christ there was so great a union of the Word and flesh that he communicated his own properties to it, so that God may be said to suffer and a man is the creator of heaven.

The commenter suggests that "this is not to say that evolution did not happen as an unfolding plan of the Creator, who stands in his essential being absolutely outside His creation, and is not Himself subject to evolution or becoming (that is, in His divinity, although Jesus Christ was subject to growth in wisdom and maturity in His humanity)."

Really? I do not believe this is the authentic Christian view. Rather, the Incarnation and Resurrection caused the cosmos to shift on its very axis, equivalent to a second creation within the heart of the old one. Everything changed, for as Eckhart maintained, thanks to Jesus, the second person of the Trinity is always taking on human nature -- the eternal Word of the Father "is now born in time, in human nature." Time was moving in one direction and took a sudden turn that could not have been accomplished in any other way. As a result, time continues to unfold toward the Omega Point that once dwelt among us. That is evolution -- which is to say, growth toward God, or perhaps "the recovery of divinity."

Another commenter writes that "I cannot imagine why the 'exploding God' hypothesis has become so widespread. I have yet to see any sensible argument in its favor. Direct observation inward seems to indicate that timelessness, or eternity, is a natural property of the inner representation of the Absolute. Why then would the cosmic Absolute be bound in time? It makes no sense, unless one is so steeped in hubris as to think mankind is the highest being, or a closet materialist thinking that this visible cosmos is all there is."

No one is suggesting that the "exploding cosmos" -- or big bang -- involves the explosion of God himself. That would represent a form of pantheism or perhaps emanationism. Eckhart preferred the image of an eternal "inner boiling" within God "boiling over" into temporal existence. In metaphysical terms, "the Godhead becomes 'God' in the flowering of creation" (McGinn).

In any event, the point is that the universe is demonstrably expanding, and we can extrapolate from this that it had a beginning in space and time. As it so happens, the name "big bang" was coined by detractors of the theory in order to ridicule it. Up to that time, it had been assumed that the cosmos was eternal, that it had always been here. Common sense would not allow for any other view. Scientists were initially very uncomfortable with the big bang idea, because it clearly suggested that the cosmos was not eternal but that it came into being at a specific point -- just as it says in Genesis.

The commenter writes: "No, God does not need our help to put Himself back together. We need God's help to put ourselves together."

But Meister Eckart might ask: what's the distinction? For as he wrote, God's ground and my ground is the same ground.

If God suffers with us, then he moves and evolves with us, for -- to again quote the paradoxical words of the Meister -- it does not seem to me that God understands because he exists, but rather that he exists because he understands.

"God's desire to suffer is an integral aspect of his eternal will for the Word to become man, and therefore, central to the meaning of creation itself.... Suffering... is not a way to God, but is actually identical with the goal -- if we understand it as our surrender to the God who totally surrenders himself to us -- 'In order to give himself totally, God assumed me totally.'" --Bernard McGinn

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.