Highlighting the Highest Light
By light we lose light. --Shakespeare
Nothing in particular popped into my head to write about this morning. I was just flipping through The Spiritual Ascent, trolling for an inspirational germ of an idea for an idea, and in so doing, a few thoughts occurred to me. At this point, I'm up to page 521, or about halfway through. I've completed Book One, which --
D'oh! Just spilled my coffee. I guess someone doesn't want me to post this morning. Got some on the book, too. Symbolic, perhaps -- an alchemical procedure to activate and "wake up" the dormant knowledge in a book about waking up.
Anyway, I've completed Book One, which has -- here, I'll count -- two main subsections, Sacrifice-Death and Combat-Action; in turn, those two subsections have seven and nine categories, respectively; and then each of those categories has at least half a dozen additional topics. As I said, it's organized like a fractal, in that it exhibits "pattern across scale," just like the living cosmos itself. Wheels within wheels within wheels.
What's my point? Well, first of all, some of these topics naturally interest me more than others. Some sections are thick with my highlighting, while others were passed over without provoking much of a response in me. In fact, there were some topics I didn't care for at all, mostly the ones on damnation, hellfire, and that sort of thing.
Still, I would estimate that a good 1/3 of the book is highlighted so far. I have a sort of informal coding system, in that some passages have asterisks, others have exclamation points, and some have a mark in the upper left corner of the page, which means REREAD LATER! THIS IS IMPORTANT! This allows me to rapidly distill the essence of a book for later coonsultation.
My first point is this. If an atheist were to read this book -- well, first of all, I don't see how an atheist could get through it or why they would even try, anymore than I could get through a calculus textbook consisting of nothing but esoteric equations. I could flip the pages, but I would just be pretending to understand. It would contain no highlighting, because nothing beyond the dedication page would mean anything to me. (Which reminds me of an unintentional joke; a while back, a famous mathematician died, and one of his colleagues eulogized him by saying that "his contribution to mathematics was incalculable." Somewhere, Gödel is laughing.)
But just because I couldn't understand the calculus book, it hardly means that a qualified person couldn't, including, of course, the author. So, let's say I picked up a used copy of the calculus book, with someone else's highlights. This would prove to me that the book not only made sense, but that it made sense to someone in particular. Or, I could be like an atheist and write a review of the book, in which I explain how it actually makes no sense at all, regardless of whether anyone else thinks it communicates deep meaning to them.
Now, I buy a fair amount of used books, and sometimes they contain the highlights of the previous owner. Without fail, I am always surprised by what they highlighted. Sometimes I think, "why did he highlight that? Everyone knows that." Other times I will think, "why did he think that was important? He missed the whole point of the passage." It's even worse when there are marginalia. That's when you really gain insight into the former owner's mental make-up. That's when you say to yourself, "what a moron. No wonder they sold the book."
Anyway, as I was saying, The Spiritual Ascent is full of my highlights. But in virtually every instance, the highlight signifies that "this is something I already know to be true," but perhaps expressed in a particularly beautiful, novel, or effective way. Other times I am struck at the manner in which a truth from one tradition is precisely mirrored in another. And other times I might be astonished at how what I thought was an original idea of my own, was actually thought by someone else 1,000 or 2,000 years ago.
In short, it is much more an exercise in vertical recollection than anything else, of reinforcing what I have independently discovered to be true. This is always the case in genuine spiritual truth, where there can be no true novelty or innovation, only an increasingly adequate grasp of the pre-existent Real, as it successively reveals more of itself.
But the main point is that I understand. And I understand not just this or that particular passage, but I understand the entire realm from which the passages emanate. Please, don't get me wrong -- I am not suggesting I am omniscient, or anything like that. I am not Petey. Rather, I am making a much more modest claim, which is really no different than when one of you readers out there think to yourself, "I understand what Bob is writing about." It means that, to the extent that you understand, there is something real that corresponds to your understanding, both external to you, and, more importantly within you.
In other words, let's say an atheist rifles through my liberary, plucks The Spiritual Ascent from my bookcase with his grubby, heathen fingers, and flips through it. Naturally, none of it makes any sense to him, any more than the calculus book makes sense to me. As such, the book should properly contain no highlighting, since it is literally void of any valid knowledge to be had. In that regard, even the Bible, or the Tao, or the Upanishads are "empty sets," so to speak, just elaborate linguistic parentheses around nothing.
So the atheist will have to be a bit puzzled to see so much highlighting in a book about nothing. In order to maintain his atheism, what are his options? Somehow he will need to devalue or invalidate my understanding, and show that I haven't really understood anything at all. Rather, I might think I understand, but that is strictly impossible, since you can't have valid knowledge about something that doesn't exist, i.e., transnatural reality. But then, I could say the same about him -- that he is simply elevating his ignorance to a virtue and calling it knowledge.
An additional problem for the atheist is that much spiritual writing is intentionally obscure (even while being luminously so), in order to protect it from being misused and misinterpreted by the unqualified -- which the atheist is, by his own proud admission. Therefore, it makes it all the easier for someone to reject it as nonsense. In fact, The Spiritual Ascent (naturally) anticipates this, as it has a whole section devoted to this problem, i.e., Give not that which is holy unto the trolls, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet...
Epicetus: The written doctrines of philosophy, if poured into the dirty and defiled vessel of a false and debased mind, are altered, changed, and spoilt, and turn to urine or anything fouler than that. Indeed, do our trolls not teach us the lesson of King Midas in reverse?
Romans: Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man...
Udana: ...[T]he mighty ocean consorts not with a dead body; for when a dead body is found in the mighty ocean, it quickly wafts it ashore, throws it up on the shore...
Get it? The secret protects itself, always. O deflects the living dead and turns them to Ø. Only the dead-and-reborn may swim in the living waters of O.
For it is absurd that a man should be forbidden to enter the temples save after bathing and cleansing his body, and yet should attempt to pray and sacrifice with a heart still soiled and spotted. --Plato
If the cask is to hold wine, its water must first be poured out. --Meister Eckhart
He must increase, but I must decrease. --John 3:30