On Participating Joyfully in the Sorrows of the World: Isn't it Great to Love This Much?
I agree with Warren that Schuon -- and this is really no secret -- was a more-or-less crypto-Vedantin, perhaps because this was the only way he could reconcile all the world's religions. But I don't think you can do this without eliminating something quite central to Christianity, and it is precisely this question of the eternal worth and infinite preciousness of the individual.
Part of the problem involves the definition of "individual," because in my view, most people do not become individuals, which is to say, themselves. And this is especially true in more traditional cultures, as there is no question that man's "social-ism" is chronologically, developmentally, and ontologically anterior to his "narciss-ism" (and I am using both of these words in a value-neutral sense; the point is, the individual emerges from the group, just as one's personal identity emerges from a matrix of unconsciousness).
Now, as I mentioned the other day, I believe the Buddhist path represents "the easy way out." It is one of resignation born of despair and hopelessness. I well remember once discussing this with my analyst some 20 years ago, and he made a wise crack that's stuck with me ever since. I must have been saying something about the superiority of "detachment" and such, when he said something to the effect that it wasn't difficult to see the wisdom in such an view when life was so obviously short, nasty, brutish, uncertain, arbitrary, tedious, and disease-ridden. But he was making a more direct point to me, having to do with an unconscious desire to essentially "refuse" my incarnation and withdraw from the game. (At the time, I was very much drawn to Zen and the like.)
Clearly, in my analyst's view, this would not represent any kind of advance, but a capitulation. Being that he was Jewish, perhaps this was a factor, in that Judaism, perhaps even more than Christianity, is very much this worldly. It is very much a religion of descent, of bringing the divine energies into this world rather than escaping up and out. The idea that a Jew could "leave the community," renounce marriage and family, move to a monastery, and obliterate one's personal identity is pretty much meshuggenah. In fact, there is a Talmudic idea that one cannot be a rabbi if one doesn't have children, because that is the only way to understand the depth of God's love for mankind. It's very concrete, not abstract.
But if you look at the conditions of life 500, or 1000, or 2000 years ago, who wouldn't want to move into a cave near the mouth of the Ganges and detach from it all -- just withdraw inward and ascend up and out? Obviously it can be done. But I sometimes wonder if it's just an elaborate means of self-hypnosis. Of note, none of the societies that adopt this view were particularly functional, at least until they began importing western values.
To paraphrase John Lennon, "I'm not anti-Buddhist, anti-Buddha, or anti-non-theism. I'm not knockin' it or putting it down. I'm just saying it as a fact and it's true more for Raccoons than for others. I'm not saying that we're better or greater, or comparing us with Buddha as a person or God as emptiness or whatever it is. I just said what I said and it was wrong. Or it was taken wrong. And now it's all this."
To illustrate my point about the difficulty of the Raccoon path, I remember seeing an interview with Tony Snow ( a Catholic convert) about a year ago. They began discussing Snow's cancer, and he began to break down, fighting back the tears. The interviewer -- who was also close to tears -- said something to the effect of, "You've got a lot to live for." Snow's pained response encapsulated the Raccoon view: Isn't it great to love this much?
Looked at in one way, you could say, "hell no! It sucks to love this much. If I were a single guy living in a cave, I could just slip off into the infinite, and not even notice the transition." But here is a man who found a way to value his own crucifixion -- and for those of you with small children, you know what I mean, because that's what it is. And yet, Snow didn't back away from it. Just like you-know-who, he actually embraced his fate. He did not think "my attachment to my loved ones is the source of pain." Rather, he said "my attachment to my loved ones is infinitely precious. I must not back away from it, but throw myself into it even more passionately."
Passion. Where have I heard that before? Judaism also has a passion for this Life, which is everything to it. This is why it is such a monstrosity to exchange the Palestinian beasts of depravity -- who are "living death" -- for the dead Israeli soldiers, who are "stolen life."
Likewise, the Christian God does not evade embodiment, life, and history. To the contrary, he plunges in feet first, into all of the muck, slime, confusion, obscurity, and ambiguity of the human state. If you think I'm exaggerating, this is one of the things that even the wisest pagans of the time could not comprehend, being that they believed the highest wisdom to consist of detachment and ascent. They could scarcely imagine a God who would actually choose this horrible situation, much less in a worthless and screaming baby born of anonymous peasants. That's crazy! As Pierre Hadot writes, this
"was one of the reasons for pagan hostility towards the mystery of the Incarnation." Porphyry asked, "How can we admit that the divine became an embryo, and that after its birth, it was wrapped up in swaddling clothes, covered with blood, bile, and even worse things?" "One could say that every philosophy of this period tried to explain the presence of [the] divine soul in a terrestrial body. Each was responding to the anxious interrogation of men who felt like strangers in this lower world" (Hadot).
In fact, it was in this climate that the heresy of Gnosticism (not to be confused with gnosis) was born, as it was a form of life-denial, rooted in the idea that existence wasn't just a mistake, but the perverse creation of a hostile demi-god. One can easily understand how a sophisticated person of the time could arrive at this conclusion. Imagine the faith it took to think otherwise.
But is it more or less difficult for us? For the blessings of modernity only make the world all the more enticing. Two thousand years ago it wasn't that difficult to be detached from children, since infant mortality was so extraordinarily high. People realized this, and didn't put a lot of emotional investment in a child until there was some certainty that he would survive. But even then, without the experience of passionate attachment at the foundation of the personality, the person will grow up with a schizoid, or paranoid, or borderline core -- meaning that they will either be emotionally detached from others, or project the bad content of their mind outward, thereby creating an eerily malevolent world, or be driven to extremes of impulsivity and a kind of "stably unstable" bipolar moodiness.
I suppose the question is, how do we truly reconcile Eastern and Western approaches without artificially reducing Christianity to Vedanta? Perhaps sophisticated Westerners need to get over their inferiority complex, and say that it is incumbent upon the Eastern religions to get a clue and to reconcile themselves with the Judeo-Christian values of America. Can it be done? Oh, I think so.
It is surely no coincidence that Sri Aurobindo was educated in the Christian West from a very early age. He eventually graduated with honors from Cambridge, and it was only then, at the age of 21 or so, that he returned to India. At the time, he knew nothing about Indian philosophy, and only later developed his own version of it, still rooted in tradition but adding some clearly Western concepts.
Quoting from the wiki article, it states that "One of Sri Aurobindo's main philosophical achievements was to introduce the concept of evolution into Vedantic thought.... Aurobindo rejected the materialistic tendencies of both Darwinism and Samkhya, and proposed an evolution of spirit along with that of matter, and that the evolution of matter was a result of the former."
But perhaps most importantly, "Sri Aurobindo rejected a major conception of Indian philosophy that says that the World is Maya (illusion) and that living as a renunciate was the only way out. He says that it is possible, not only to transcend human nature but also to transform it and to live in the world as a free and evolved human being with a new consciousness and a new nature which could spontaneously perceive the truth of things, and proceed in all matters on the basis of inner oneness, love and light" (emphasis mine).
Bingo! The Way of the Raccoon, whatever your religion. Elsewhere Aurobindo wrote that such an approach necessarily altered "our whole normal view of things; even in preserving all the aims of human life, it will give them a different sense and direction."
Isn't it great to love so much?
The first victory is to create an individuality. And then later, the second victory is to give this individuality to the Divine. And the third victory is that the Divine changes your individuality into a divine being.
There are three stages: the first is to become an individual; the second is to consecrate the individual, that he may surrender entirely to the Divine and be identified with Him; and the third is that the Divine takes possession of this individual and changes him into a being in His own image, that is, he too becomes divine. --The Mother