Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Imagining Reality

We've dabbled a bit in Schuon's understanding of the symbolism of color. What about his arch-nemesis, Sri Aurobindo? What does he say? (Schuon held Sri Aurobindo in the lowest regard, as he wasn't a strict "traditionalist," to such an extent that he could not even bring himself to utter his name when smacking him around. He would just use generic descriptors such as "certain intrinsically heretical deviant modernist pseudo-yogis with deplorable evolutionist pretensions," or suchlike.)

First of all, any real yogi (or Christian saint or mystic, for that matter) will caution you that spiritual experiences, realizations, visions, and powers ("siddhis") are ultimately of no importance, and can often be a distraction. This is partly because at the early stages of practice, there is still a mixture of the lower and the upper vertical (the mental and psychic planes), so to speak. Thus, one should not attach too much significance to specific details "until the consciousness develops more. The opening of the consciousness to the Divine Light and Truth and Presence is always the one important thing in the yoga."

The important point is to to realize that one is not limited by one's "outward surface or waking consciousness," but to develop the latent capacity "for entering into experiences of the inner consciousness of which most people are unaware but which opens by the practice of yoga. By this opening one becomes aware of subtle planes of experience and worlds of existence other than the material." Again, imagination is like the membrane between the higher and lower worlds, just as in science it is the membrane between appearances and reality, so to speak.

For example, modern physics requires a great leap of imagination to see "beyond" or through the deceptive appearances of solid matter. For the physicist, matter is nothing whatsoever like the way it presents itself to our evolved senses. It is, in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, a "floating condensation on a swarm of the indefinable." (BTW, Teilhard was Schuon's other evolutionist arch-nemesis, a veritable Catholic Sri Aurobindo, unless Aurobindo is the Hindu Teilhard.)

But does this mean that scientific theories are just human inventions, mere fancy with no anchor in reality? No, not at all. Rather, as described by Polanyi, scientific theories -- no less than authentic spiritual visions -- are analogous to "probes" with which we reach beyond the senses and into the unknown. They are both an irreducible blend of objectivity and subjectivity, without which thinking cannot take place -- neither scientific thinking nor spiritual intellection. One cannot reason in a void, whether one is reasoning about so-called "matter" or about Spirit. In both cases, the subject is merely attempting to penetrate and evolve beyond its own representation.

These, er, epistemological problems are all discussed in the opening chapter of my book. For example, "The laws that undergird the universe are invisible to our evolves senses; rather, they can only be 'seen' with the mind's eye, the eye of reason (and even more improbably, the eye of aesthetic beauty -- many mathematicians will reject a formula out of hand if it lacks 'beauty'). Strangely enough, science begins with the one world we experience with our senses (for where else could it begin?), but quickly saws off that familiar limb by excluding 'everything that can be imagined or conceived, except in abstract mathematical terms,' consequently relegating everything outside mathematical description -- the very world it started with -- to an 'ontological limbo' (W. Smith)."

Yesterday, our new troll, Xi, wisely rejected my magnanimous offer to grace us with a guest-post in which he outlines his meager philosophy, conceding that he did not actually have a philosophy, not even a meager one: "I don't have a 'philosophy' or metaphysical system. All such a system results in is self-referential blathering and confirmation bias" (sic).

No philosophy? Gee, ya' think? At any rate, Xi directly contradicts his disavowal of philosophy when, in the very next sentence -- which, by the way, glows with rudimentary intelligence -- he refers to the mind's curious -- curious to an intellectually curious person, anyway -- ability "to deceive itself and see patterns where none exist [and] to think that such nonsense actually pertains to anything real."

Thus, at the very least, Xi believes that the Real exists and that it is possible for the mind -- whatever that is -- to know it (for knowing falsehood presumes an ability to know truth). But what is the mind and what is the Real, and what is their relationship? Xi, that is your next assignment. You are very close to discovering Shankara's doctrine of maya, only 1200 years late.

Now, as Aurobindo explains in a letter to a disciple, spiritual visions and experiences can serve as keys "to contact with the other worlds or with the inner worlds and all that is there and these are regions of immense riches which far surpass the physical plane.... One enters into a larger freer self and a larger more plastic world.... These things have not the effect of a mere imagination (as a poet's or artist's, although that can be strong enough) but if fully followed out bring constant growth of the being and the consciousness...."

This very much reminds me of when I first began studying psychoanalysis, as I had some difficulty getting beyond the concrete meaning of some of the words used to describe primitive unconscious phenomena. For example, let's take this sentence by Melanie Klein from her classic paper Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms. I think you will agree that it sounds bizarre:

"I have often expressed my view that object-relations exist from the beginning of life, the first object being the mother's breast which to the child becomes split into a good (gratifying) and bad (frustrating) breast; this splitting results in a severance of love and hate.... From the beginning the destructive impulse is turned against the object and is first expressed in phantasied oral-sadistic attacks on the mother's breast, which soon develop into onslaughts on her body by all sadistic means. The persecutory fears arising from the infant's oral-sadistic impulses to rob the mother's body of its good contents... are of great importance for the development of paranoia and schizophrenia."

Yes, it sounded a bit wacky until I had my first psychotic patient during my internship at Camarillo State Mental Hospital, and Klein's theories not only fit like the proverbial glove, but were like a life raft that kept me from sinking beneath the ocean of this patient's paranoia and delusional attacks on me, Mr. Bad Breast. That is, at times I was the bountiful good breast, but in an instant could turn into the vicious and withholding bad breast, about which she would have dreams and vivid hallucinations of biting and tearing apart, and then being swallowed up in return. In one dream, we had a baby together, at which point she bit off the baby's head and then my head.

Anyway, back to Aurobindo before I run out of time, which I am about to. In another letter, he summarized our present discussion by writing that "Subjective visions can be as real as objective sight -- the only difference is that one is of real things in material space, while others are of real things belonging to other planes down to the subtle physical; even symbolic visions are real in so far as they are symbols of realities.... Visions are unreal only when these are merely imaginative mental formulations, not representing anything that is or was true or is going to be true."

17 Comments:

Blogger gumshoe said...

OT -

sometimes it's FUN to watch people make sausage(and...Daniel Dennet is involved in this one)!

photoncourrier posted a link
to a 2003 comment on his blog
(at roger simon's today)...
laugh out loud funny...

http://tinyurl.com/yov2r6

See: 'Hot Epistemologies! Get 'em Here!'

photon sez...' "Progressive" thought is really just a subset of the fashion industry, and probably not the most creative or useful subset.'

2/19/2008 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

Needle Stick
this will sting a bit
crucial cure for cataracts
in oculation

2/19/2008 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

I’m very uncomfortable judging the validity of any experiences, whether physical or spiritual, by other than objective measures (e.g. science, scripture). For instance, if I experience an angel of light, is it really an angel of light? Bob said, “First of all, any real yogi (or Christian saint or mystic, for that matter) will caution you that spiritual experiences, realizations, visions, and powers ("siddhis") are ultimately of no importance, and can often be a distraction…”, or, I would add, outright deceptive.

In this fallen world, deception is around every corner – and often comes in the form of experience. For instance, when Mormons are questioned why they believe Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon is true, their standard answer is, “I had a burning in my bosom”. I kid you not. Experiences, feelings, or sensations can not be depended on to prove anything spiritual. Although Saul the “destroyer of Christians” became Paul the Apostle of Christ through a profound experience, his teachings were always based on scripture, not his experience.

There is so much scripture speaking to all manner of deception -
II Timothy 4:3
I John 1:8
Romans 16:17-18
Ephesians 5:6
Colossians 2:8

and, fortunately, how to avoid it.

Bob - if they were still alive today and you could spend some time together with Schuon and Aurobindo, might you be able to bring them to some fundamental agreement? Perhaps one of your next books could be in the form of a debate / discussion between the two (I know at least a few folks that would read it).

OK, sorry for taking up so much time and space (climbing down off pulpit...).

2/19/2008 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

A little "shock" for me to read of Schuon's disdain for Aurobindo.

I don't necessarily "expect" people to get along, but I have heard rumors that as conscious awareness expands in people, they recognize corresponding understanding in others, if only by way of words, or phrases, or images - or even by a certain "resonance." The rumors say that this ameliorates differences. Not always, I gather!

Anyway, little shocks like that are good, and wake me up a little.

And I recently read a little bit of background on Teilhard -- a very interesting fellow!

2/19/2008 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

(Bob said:)
in an instant (I) could turn into the vicious and withholding bad breast, about which Xi would have dreams and vivid hallucinations of biting and tearing apart, and then being swallowed up in return. In one dream, we had a baby together, at which point Xi bit off the baby's head and then my head.

Bwaaaaaaaaaahahahaha....

Sorry kits, couldn't resist.

2/19/2008 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

For a bit of local color today, I went to the Phoenix Art museum with a friend. One of the exhibitions they are hosting right now is of Illuminated Manuscripts, featuring the St. John's Bible (get your own copy for only $115,000! If I could, I would - it's that beautiful).

Wow.

2/19/2008 04:27:00 PM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Bob said:
"The important point is to to realize that one is not limited by one's "outward surface or waking consciousness," but to develop the latent capacity "for entering into experiences of the inner consciousness of which most people are unaware..."

These last couple of posts & comments got me thinking about Synesthesia & having read somewhere, perhaps in 'Blue Cats & Chartreuse Kittens', that many children are Synesthetic while young, but 'grow out of it'.

And then the Bobservations regarding conversations with Future Leader (ie: Where did you come from? Up There)& comments section re those posts, where Kits described their memories of suddenly 'growing out' of their prior selves & gnowing they lost something.

Musing on whether the flatlander state of being isn't caused by not having even a latent memory of their prior, original selves to go home to.

Poor wankers

2/19/2008 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Nomo:

No, there is no possibility of reconciliation between Schuon and Aurobindo, since Schuon believed evolution to be an impossibility while Aurobindo believed it to be an inevitability. Of course, they could be reconciled if Schuon had achieved the same vertical level as Sri Aurobindo, which he did not, Schuon being primarily a metaphysician and Aurobindo a realizer of the nondual brahman and then some. Schuon essentially stayed within form, whereas Aurobindo transcended it. Anyway, fortunately, it's not my problem. I take my truth where I can find it, and as Schuon said -- ironically -- "the divergences of the sages are a blessing," or something to that effect.

2/19/2008 05:28:00 PM  
Anonymous hoarhey said...

Nomo,

Have you scraped those 'Romney 08' stickers off your bumper yet?

2/19/2008 06:51:00 PM  
Anonymous coonified said...

"the divergences of the sages are a blessing"

It's an Islamic saying.

I was just wondering what Schuon thought of Aurobindo the other day.

"certain intrinsically heretical deviant modernist pseudo-yogis with deplorable evolutionist pretensions"

I expected something like that--lol.

The trajectory into imagination and the inner subliminal experiences is a good one for me. Actually, I started writing something that turned out to be a full blown essay. We'll see how that goes…

...

Here’s what I’ve written so far. I’m just trying to resolve my intraphysic confusion, something that I think is just going to have to mended with time and growth. Anyway:

"Visions are unreal only when these are merely imaginative mental formulations, not representing anything that is or was true or is going to be true."

As I've said before, all my life I've been thrown into what Aurobindo calls the Vital planes (specifically in the chest), worlds that "resemble ones environment except that things are moved around, out of place," (paraphrase) kind of like someone else redecorated the place. Though at first I made the error of thinking that these worlds were somehow objectively real, even though it was happening within my body, with more experience I came to find that I was actually having lucid dream experiences, ones where violation, will, cognition, etc, are still in tack, though diminished, and that the beings that I encountered there were for the most part, alienated aspects of myself. These are the “forces [that have become] independent of the subjective consciousness which engendered them. They are, in other words, magical creations, for magic is the objectification of that which takes its origin in subjective consciousness.” (Meditations) These are also the “autonomous complexes” of Jung who “posses a mental life of their own.” And perhaps, these types of complexes are responsible for most of the “wars between two types of ignorance,” as was Aurobindo’s opinion of WWI. About WWII he made a different judgment: “this was a fight between two forces, the Divine and the Asuric,” the Asuras holding mysterious transcendental attributes coupled with aggressive barbarism, and the like. There seems to be a distinction between these two…maybe three types of psychology, one of the common intrapsychic complex, another in the class of the Tibetan tulpus—or fully objectified psychic formations—and lastly the those of the Deva and Asuric beings of subtle physical plane, all of which are capable of interfering with the intentions of the ego.

The fist thing that one may notice is that about these three types of beings is that they are all united, or have in common, an abnormal relationship to the supreme nightmare of maya, the principles of constriction, bondage, and retrogression found in Aurobindos Inconscient. But in contrast to the previous two types of complexes, the word Asura does not bear the connotation of demon (intrapsychic magical creation),” as some may suppose. As Jeanine Miller writes, “Asu means breath or life-energy (+ ra from Vra to posses and also to grant). Asura thus not only means the possessor of the life-breath but also its bestower,” The Devas and Asuras are “highly spiritual beings entities known for both their creative and ruling capacities and for the magic power which they could yield,” and thus have to be distinguished from the denser qualities of earth. Might we say that they are the shadows of the gods?, whose celestial causes are enough to animate some of the lowest of elements, sometimes with the most horrid earthly consequences?

(actually, I'm not sure. Pretty sure that I've been touched by a couple Titians, though. To be continued...maybe)

2/19/2008 07:30:00 PM  
Anonymous coonified said...

"It's an Islamic saying."

Oh yea, quoteth "Frithjof Schuon: Life and teachings" (Bio) pg 33.

2/19/2008 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Hoarhey - Nope, just covered 'em up with Romney 2012!

Ugh. You know it's comin'. Got any Tums?

2/19/2008 09:38:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Schuon and Aurobindo - Whoa, what if they're havin' that debate right now?!?! That'll teach me.

2/19/2008 09:40:00 PM  
Anonymous antichrist said...

OBAMA FOR PRESIDENT!

2/19/2008 11:26:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

...of the glee club!

2/20/2008 06:16:00 AM  
Blogger gumshoe said...

wonder if antichrist knows Obama!
is a Christian.

anyone find it odd that
Obama's William Jennings Bryan
campaign-style,and professed Christianity gets so little analysis let alone the repugnance of the usual MSM suspects to "Christers"??

2/20/2008 01:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Theos Negativa said...

Hello folks. I have been reading some of the posts here and while I respect your motives, I have to ask, do you really think that you can ever say, write or think anything genuinely true about Being Itself[call it God or Brahman or what-have-you]?

While we can directly experience Being Itself, attempts to communicate about it, other than to say what it isn't, seem foolish and harmful.

Even the words the greatest so-called sages seem like the ramblings of drunken monkeys when I compare them to experiencing Being Itself. Its like trying to describe Hamlet with only the words 'of' and 'prince'. No matter how clever one is, it simply can't be done.

2/20/2008 03:12:00 PM  

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