Saturday, January 03, 2009

On Surrendering the Mind to its Source

Yesterday in a comment, I mentioned that our historical understanding and appreciation of liberty probably followed from actually living it in the form of free markets as opposed to thinking about it abstractly. In academia there is a huge bias toward the latter view, because the caste of the idle tenured can't help regarding itself as much less useless than it actually is.

You routinely read, for example, about how Descartes was responsible for our Western "body-mind dualism" because of his wisecrock, "I think, therefore I am" -- as if this abstract philosophical meme somehow trickled down to the masses, so that the farmers, artisans, and serfs all thought to themselves, "damn, the man may be French, but he's got a point. There's an extended substance. And a thinking substance. I guess the world is hopelessly fractured, since none of us are naive enough anymore to believe that God reconciles these two categories."

No, the reason the body-mind duality spread throughout the West is because that is what it feels like to have a mind! If you don't have much of a mind, then it's not going to be a problem, is it? Instead, you will likely resonate more to Popeye's ontology, i.e., "I am what I am."

As I've mentioned before, I've done psychiatric evaluations of people from all over the world, and there is no question that in certain cultures the individual barely emerges out of the collective -- even out of their own body, to be honest. They don't have the problem of the body-mind dualism because they don't possess the latter. They are shockingly free of what we would call insight, reflection, interiority, detachment, irony, etc. It's as if they do not live in their minds, but in their bodies. They are amazingly content to perform the most mindless and repetitive work -- in fact, in many ways, they are probably happier than the average American. They essentially don't think about things until something goes wrong with their body. Otherwise, "no brain, no problem" (like the old baseball adage, "don't think -- you'll hurt the ballclub").

[The other day, I had an interesting conversation about this very topic with an interpreter. She was from Buenos Aires, and quite sophisticated, but her job usually involved translating for the above type of "pre-mental" person. She enthusiastically agreed with my observations.]

I don't know about you, but I can think back to my own childhood, when this unified condition was the natural state. One just felt the conflict-free bliss of being alive, especially between, say, 7 and 12. By this time, your nervous system has completely come "on line." You can speak, you can play, you have an imagination, you have friends, and if you have good enough parenting, you have no problems except for the mindless drudgery of school. Existential problems don't really emerge again until puberty. Just when you get used to the world, you're plunged into a new one, with new thoughts, new relations, a new body.

[I read a beautiful passage by Balthasar yesterday: "At dawn, heaven and earth are still one. Earthly things are transfigured and become celestial, while the light of heaven has not yet appeared in all its particularity. Such is the dawn of youth, in which the spirit plays in the body unselfconsciously. When the sun climbs to the very zenith of midday, heaven and earth are fully separated." Of course, the goal of the Raccoon lifestyle is to reintegrate heaven and earth at a higher level.]

The latest research in developmental neurology explains why adolescence can be so difficult. As it so happens, it doesn't just feel like your brain is being disassembled. Rather, that's actually what happens. The brain literally disassembles and reassembles during the teen years. A particular problem for boys is that the part of the brain that you might label "impulsivity" or "risk-taking" is temporarily unplugged (or at least attenuated) from the higher part of the neocortex where the thing called "judgment" resides. Like the infant, the adolescent goes through life at the same time his brain is being rewired together. Throw in the surge of hormones -- which is especially powerful in girls -- and you have a potential recipe for disaster. In my case, I don't think "judgment" and "impulse" were fully reintegrated in my brain until I was about 26.

Now coincidentally, Will mentioned in a comment yesterday that "most people are not really ready for college until they're about 24 - 26 years old. That's the age when the 'I-relate-everything-to-myself-and-my-emotions' fixation starts to dwindle. A bit." As it so happens, that is exactly how it was for me. Although I started college at 17, I couldn't have been less prepared. I faked my way through five semesters of junior college, but when I transferred to the state university, the game was over. I struggled through one semester but just stopped going in the middle of the second.

Around the same time, I had begun working as a retail clerk, which I continued doing for the subsequent 12 years, until 1988, the same year I completed my Ph.D. In between, I returned to college when I was 23. Looking back on it, I can see that a certain intellectual "awakening" was beginning to dawn, much to my surprise. It became markedly stronger when I was 26, but was like a sudden explosion at 29. By that time I was in graduate school, but it is important to point out that this explosion had nothing to do with school.

Furthermore, it had nothing to do with me, and was something over which I had no control, any more than I controlled the rate of growth of my body. Rather, it was the emergence of an independent and relatively autonomous developmental line, a process unto itself, one that I imagine most people ignore, either because by that age they are already on a fixed career path, or because their life became derailed much earlier.

It was literally an "opening" in my soul, accompanied by a flood of ideas, insights and connections that went well beyond anything I had formally learned in school, or any capacities I had even remotely possessed up to that time. It was really a new way of life and of Being. To a certain extent, if you can picture it, it was like a descent of pure intelligence without form or content. Naturally, given my meager academic history, this was totally unexpected, but I see now that it was precisely the absence of content that contributed to my plasticity in assimilating this force. [Indeed, it reminds me of Future Leader's freakishly good memory, which I imagine is partly a result of the fact that his brain is so empty and uncluttered, like a brand new computer.] I began reading voraciously and widely in the effort to provide some "content" to this seeming "force." I needed my mind to catch up with my new-found intelligence. [Only then did I start importing a lot of nonsense along the way!]

Why am I bringing this up? Several reasons. First, I'm wondering if anyone else out there has had similar experiences of "descents" and "awakenings?" I'm guessing that many Raccoons have similar stories to share.

I think it is fair to say that by this time, I had reached the "summit of intelligence." Now please, don't get me wrong here, for I am hardly making any special claim for myself. I think most "intellectuals" reach the summit of intelligence by one path or another, meaning that there is essentially nothing in the realm of worldly ideas that they cannot understand. The world of profane "intelligence" is basically open to them. Much will depend upon the character of the person, the content with which they fill out their intelligence, and their motives in doing so. For intelligence, more often than not, is in the service of a bad end or a bad egg. Obviously, intelligence itself in no way correlates with truth. Look at Noam Chomsky, for example. He is obviously at the summit of intelligence. You can even say he's genius if you like. But what good is the intelligence, when it exists in a parallel looniverse of lies, hatred, and paranoia? The smarter the person, the more catastrophic will be their error!

Throughout history people have reached the summit of intelligence, just as countless artists have achieved the summit of beauty. This is why the ancient Greeks still intrigue us. Someone like Plato was already at the summit of intelligence over 2,000 years ago. As Whitehead said, Western philosophy since then is basically a footnote on Plato -- which is not so much a tribute to Plato as an ackowledgement that pure intelligence, like artistic perfection, cannot surpass itself. One person becomes a Hegelian, another becomes a logical positivist, another becomes a deconstructionist. It doesn't really matter. It's just pure intelligence imagining it can surpass itself and know the one truth on a plane where it is intrinsically impossible to do so.

Something similar to a descent of pure intelligence occurred to Sri Aurobindo. In his case, he didn't remain stuck there, but immediately saw through its limitations. He did not see it as an end, merely a realm that had to be infused with a higher spirit in order to attain its proper end.

The best introduction to Sri Aurobindo is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem. In it, Satprem describes Aurobindo's recognition of the limits of the intellect: "The day came when Sri Aurobindo had had enough of these intellectual exercises. He had probably realized that one can go on amassing knowledge indefinitely, reading and learning languages, even learning all the languages in the world and reading all the books in the world, and yet not progressing an inch. For the mind does not seek truly to know, even though it appears to -- it seeks to grind. If by chance the machine were to come to a stop because knowledge had been obtained, it would soon rise up in revolt and find something new to grind, just for the sake of grinding and grinding."

Now, notice two things; first, Aurobindo had achieved the summit of intelligence, which essentially leaves one on a plane where the endless circles of deconstruction and synthesis are inevitable, with no nonlocal vector to guide them to their proper end in Truth as such. In other words, deconstruction is simply intelligence playing with the same facts to come up with radically disparate conclusions. Equally intelligent people can easily be on one side or the other of a particular dispute, or even arrive at opposite ideologies. For the "integralist," the task is to admit the truth of each and to "integrate" them. Thus, for example, we must integrate "left" and "right," since plenty of equally intelligent people adhere to each.

But this is not the path to truth. Unless intelligence is infused with the descent of a higher light, it will forever remain on its own partial plane. More on which tomorrow. In any event, I am curious to hear from others who have had this experience of a sudden opening, or "descent," of intelligence, followed by the descent of something surpassing it, and which begins to shape and reform intelligence for its own higher ends.

Here again, just yesterday I read a relevant passage by Balthasar, who speaks of "the moment when one's own inspiration mysteriously passes over into inspiration through the genius, the daimon, or the indwelling god, a moment when the 'spirit that contains the god' obeys a superior command which as such implies form and is able to impose form." This is impossible in the absence of true faith (o), through which the person divests himself "of any intent to give himself shape, who makes himself available as matter for the divine action."

Friday, January 02, 2009

When Two Tingles Intermingle (1.03.10)

Today's meisterful invOcation:

Poised between two forms of nothingness, the nihil by way of eminence that is God, and the nihil that marks the defect of creatures, Eckhart's mystical way will be an invitation to the soul to give up the nothingness of the created self in order to become the divine Nothing that is also all things. --Bernard McGinn

Continuing with yesterday's post, Bolton concludes that "dualism would appear to be an intellectual image of the cosmic order." I would prefer a term such as "generative complementarity," which is to be distinguished from a static dualism by virtue of the fact that the former is capable of evolving into the "higher third," thus converting existence from the closed circle to the open spiral, or.... what's the word, Jeeves? Yes, an asymptotic gyre.

In most cases, we can see that a stubborn dualism that we'd like to get rid of is a complementarity that we need to work with. Of course, that is not always the case, for one side of a duality can be a negation, rather than complement, of the other; for example, leftism is the negation of classical liberalism, not its complement, much less any kind of "progressive" integration. Similarly, feminism ends up creating masculinized women and feminized men, and is the death of the dynamic tension that.... that.... Let's just let Frank describe it:

How little we know / how much to discover / what chemical forces flow / from lover to lover / How little we understand / what touches of that tingle / that sudden explosion / when two tingles intermingle

Indeed. That is an example of complementarity. But we all know that relationships can descend into the static dualism, or "drama," that many people confuse with generativity:

The broken dates, the endless waits / the lovely loving and the hateful hates / the conversation with the flying plates / I wish I were in love again / Believe me sir, I much prefer / the classic battle of a him and her / I don't like quiet and I wish I were / in love again

Yes, who among us hasn't had the conversation with the flying plates? Isn't that why the trolls come here? They're not here to con-verse, which means to "flow together." Rather, they are here to stir up contro-versy, which means to "flow against" in their characteristic unDude manner. Our most recent anonymous troll couldn't stop throwing around the plate in his head.

The possibility of knowledge hinges on the dualism of phenomena and noumenon. To "know" means to shorten the distance, or close the gap, between appearances and reality. (As we shall see later, the reverse is true for "spiritual progress," in that the closer one draws to God, the more one appreciates the distance.) It seems that Truth bifurcates into these two realms, which it must do on pain of having no creation at all. Paradoxically -- but not really -- you could say that existence itself is the first "fall," since it is a descent from the Principle. But don't sweat it. Eternity is still in love with the productions of time.

Obviously, it is impossible for us to imagine what the cosmos looks like "with no one there." The possibility of knowledge presupposes not just a knower, but a particular point of view, a "separation of the subjective and objective components of perception" (Bolton).

But this split is not a pernicious one, nor can science ever heal it. Rather, I agree with Polanyi that the separation of subject and object creates a generative transitional space in which our understanding may evolve into deeper and more comprehensive syntheses of reality. Thus, the practice of science can be seen as a kind of shadow of infinite truth, except that, unlike mysticism, it can never reach the goal.

Still, as Bolton says, dualism "enables us to go abroad while staying at home. All that is 'out there' is at the same time 'in here,'" meaning that science is simultaneously a deepening of the objective and subjective horizons -- so long as one doesn't regard the external world in the naive manner of the bonehead materialist or reductionistic Darwinian. As we always say, consciousness reveals more about Darwinism than Darwinism will ever reveal about consciousness. If you remember this, you can accept any findings of Darwinism without being caught in its pneumacognitive nets.

Bolton agrees that representation "commits us to the idea of a Representer, and this is what is normally identified with the soul." Furthermore -- and this is a key point -- "for the soul, the body and the whole physical world which the body belongs to, appear as content. While the body is essentially something contained, the soul is essentially a container of phenomena." As such, the "complete I" includes "the world-containing and world-representing soul," and "the world, as it appears from one's own unique point of view, is in a real sense a part of one's identity" (emphasis mine).

This makes perfect sense to me, because we all know how dramatically different the world appears when we are depressed, or in love, or an atheist. Each of these conditions allows one to "see" realities that might otherwise be foreclosed. For example, I do not deny that atheism discloses something about reality, just as does depression. If nothing else, they teach us that we always transcend the content of experience, for when we return to normal, we see that we had been living with blinders on, which is another way of being dead.

One thing we must be aware of is the ubiquitous societal pressure to see and experience the world in materialistic terms, which is to die to God for the sake of the world, rather than vice versa. Balthasar:

"[N]aked matter remains an indigestible symbol of fear and anguish. Since nothing else remains, and yet something must be embraced, twentieth-century man is urged to enter this impossible marriage with matter, a union which finally spoils man's taste for love. But man cannot bear to live with the object of his impotence, that which remains permanently unmastered. He must either deny it or conceal it in the silence of death."

God gives himself to man as far as that is possible, and it is only possible to the extent that the individual being is a world-containing entity with endless extension described above.... In short, there must be some common measure between the recipient and the received. When the human state is seen in this light, it will not be difficult to proceed to the idea of man as God's mediator in the world. --Robert Bolton, Self and Spirit

Then again, as Saint Teresa of Ávila might have said of the Groom, So long as you kiss me / and the world around us shatters / How little it matters / how little we know.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

None of This Post is True! (1.01.10)

Just a dashed-off verticalisthenic that I didn't think I'd be able to finish. But the boy slept in until 8:30, so here it is... It's a bit rambly, but then again, you can be sure that it's Oven fresh...

We'll start with a couple of pneumanautical observations:

God is distinguished by his indistinction from any other distinct things...--Meister Eckhart

"Eckhart was obviously fascinated by the question of what we think we are doing when we attempt to speak about God. In one sense, his whole surviving corpus is an exploration of this issue. Why is speech necessary when silence is more fitting?" (McGinn).

You might say that Eckhart picks up where Aquinas himself left off, in the abysmal silence at the beginning and end of all verbalization; which is why he could say that "the Word which is in the silence of the fatherly Intellect is a Word without word, or rather a Word above every word." In the beginning -- or at the Origin, to be precise -- is the wordless Word, or pure spirit-breath hovering over the face of the deep.

Now, is this true? No, not really. It just removes some of the barriers to falsehood.

I was reading some Balthasar again yesterday, and he was essentially emphasizing a point also made by Schuon, to the effect that if you do not first appreciate the infinite chasm between you and God, you cannot possibly appreciate the unity; for the difference is a fact, while the similarities are merely analogical. In other words, there is always an "as if" component to our divine likeness. To deny this is to engage in a monstrous breach of spiritual etiquette, to say the least. After all, even to say "I and the Father are One," is to equally say "One is I and the Father." Or, you could say that "three's company and One's a crowd."

Here again, the metaphysical implication of this would be a kind of irreducible dualism, as argued by Bolton in Self and Spirit: "Arguably the duality of soul and God could be an ultimate reality.... There are in fact profound reasons for the duality of God in relation to the soul, which are only ignored because of prevailing habits of thought."

I always chuckle when someone expresses the cliche that we only believe in dualism because of what some philosopher said 400 years ago. It's like arguing that we only believe in, say, the reality of time, because Hegel said it was a mode of the infinite. That's giving way too much credit to intellectuals. But that's what intellectuals do -- i.e., give way too much credit to themselves and each other. For example, as I have argued in the past, liberty had to first be "lived" before it could be discovered and developed as an abstract value. Here you see an important point, that incarnation precedes cogitation.

Bolton agrees that "when we attribute the influence of Dualism to Descartes, we are implicitly attributing to him the power of imposing his peculiar way of thinking on a whole civilization for three centuries.... In reality, this kind of power is so rare that it is usually considered an attribute of the founders of religions, not of philosophers."

Rather, Descartes simply identified "a certain element in the way in which human minds have always worked, and create[d] a system around it." After all, consciousness and matter are so profoundly different, that no one has to press the point. The trick is in trying to understand how they relate.

This reminds me of something Richard Weaver wrote, to the effect that the denial of religion always conceals a denial of mind. Here again, Bolton agrees that "the denial of Dualism means in practice a denial of consciousness itself, and the modern philosophers who argue for this are arguing for something which not only most people do not believe, but which they themselves do not believe except, perhaps, in the lecture room."

In reality, as it pertains to the manner in which we actually live, consciousness is quite literally everything, for "it is the container and basis of phenomena as such." No "theory of everything" will ever account for the person who understands it, why he wants to tell others about it, or how it is even possible to cause "understanding" in another subject -- whatever that is. The moment you understand the theory, you've breached the unity.

If we are going to ditch dualism, then we had better come up with a more adequate substitute, not merely a philosophy that unexplains everything dualism explained. After all, we only know that there are objects of consciousness because there are objects and consciousness. Therefore, any denial of dualism necessarily begins in dualism, or else there is no knower and no possibility knowledge, "as if the Cheshire cat's grin really could remain when the cat was gone" (Bolton).

Still, there is a way out of this duality coonundrum. In my view, there are certain irreducible dualities in the cosmos. Furthermore, I have always suspected that they are all somehow related, or perhaps reflections of some primordial meta-duality. I am thinking of the One and many, time and eternity, absolute and infinite, male and female, wave and particle, part and whole, form and substance, individual and group, subject and object, conscious and unconscious, and a few others.

Some might suggest that the brain is therefore a kind of "duality generator," but Bolton argues that the brain evolved long before we had anything to say about it, "under cosmic conditions which had the power to determine the form of the brain in accordance with their own nature." In short, the objective structure of the brain reveals something objectively true about the subjective nature of reality -- or about the inner nature of the ultimate Subject.

To be continued....

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eternal Life, While You Wait!

We shall start with another orthoparadoxical invOcation from the Meister. You may not understand it today, but you will hopefully undergo it by the end of this series, for it maketh perfect nonsense:

Distinction comes from Absolute Unity.... Absolute Unity is the distinction and the distinction is the unity. The greater the distinction, the greater the unity, for it is the distinction without distinction.

In Self and Spirit, Bolton relates the idea of the "philosopher's stone" to the eternal, uncreated, and uncreateable part of ourselves. In fact, he references Eckhart on the matter: "There is an agent in the soul such that if the soul were wholly this, it would be uncreated, and [furthermore], without the above-mentioned agent, God acts not at all. Whatever God gives, he gives through it...."

Thus, "it is only in the innermost realm of the human spirit that the image of God can be said to reside." Also -- and this is a key point -- "This is immovably part of us, so that failure to live in harmony with this divine principle must result in an ultimate inner conflict and self-contradiction" (emphasis mine).

This, don't you know, is why I would now find it virtually impossible to conduct psychotherapy with a fully and irredeemably secularized person. This is not because I am a bigot -- or only a bigot -- but because there would be no possibility of helping them identify with, actualize, and assimilate this divine principle (or at least I can't help them). Such a person is indeed condemned to live in ultimate conflict and self-contradiction, not to mention at the periphery of the cosmos, where I rarely hang out.

Meanwhile, Raccoons are only condemned to the Absolute, which is a much better thing to be condemned to. It's what gives us our passion for eternity, not to mention our susceptibility to ec-stasy -- which literally means to "stand outside." But this is how God stands inside. You might say that our ecstasy is His enstasy. Indeed, Eckhart said as much in his inimitable way: "I have often said, God's going-out is his going-in." (Bear in mind that Eckhart's language often directly bears the characteristic of ecstasy, in that it is beside itself with joy, or bubbling over with divine glee.)

According to McGinn, Eckhart conceived of this divine movement "as the fundamental law of reality taught by the Bible...." He variously described this primordial emanation and return as a "bursting-forth" or a "breaking-through" within the ground of existence; furthermore, "the pulse of this universal circle of activity provides a key for presenting the systematic perspective behind Eckhart's disparate works."

Perceptive and/or obsessive-compulsive readers will have noticed that the pulse of this universal circle is also a key to understanding Gagdad's desperate works, for if God isn't a cyclical rhythm, I don't know what he is.

Here, this explains it: "The first grace consists in a type of flowing out, a departure from God (↓); the second consists in a type of flowing back, a return to God himself (↑)" (Eckhart, minus the arrows). This circle proceeds vertically from Cosmogenesis to Cosmobliteration, hence the absurcular structure of my book -- which begins, by the way, with an Eckhart quote about the negation of negation that eternally precedes the creatio ex nihilo -- you know, the absolutely BLACK PAGE on p. 6. That BLACK PAGE is by far the most informative part of my book, for it is there that we meet in the muddle of the mount. Nobody's ever seen the face of God, and you're looking right at it!

The rivers return to the place from whence they flowed, so that they may flow again. Can I get a wetness? Or do you just need an adult diaper?

Now, Eckhart was far from alone in his perfect nonsense. Just yesterday evening I cooncidentally stumbled upon a passage by Balthasar in reference to the great Origen. It goes a little like this: "If 'spirit' is participation of the soul in God, then its ultimate essence is determined precisely by this participation. Only in orientation towards God is it immortal, only in derivation from God is it ever new in being, only through relationship to him is it good and blessedly happy.... Thus the soul must strive for this participation with the most absolute of commitments, and build its life on the foundation of this unmerited grace."

Therefore, it appears that immortality is optional, or, if not optional, then like that hole in your dashboard where the cigarette lighter used to go. It's still there, but nobody uses it anymore. No, wait, it's like the plastic exejesus for the darshan your vehicle, that's the crux of the master (Coonifesto, p. 255).

Ahem. Let's break this down a little father, son. Bolton notes that there is a "part" of us that mediates between God and creation. In my case, I call it "Bob," but you can call yours what you want. Now, it can equally be seen as the base or ground of our ascent to God, or "as the apex of an integrating movement in the natural order"; in other words, as a sort of crystalized kernel outside time (¶), or as a kind of integrative process within time [O-->(n)].

Each kernel is "unique," and yet, none other than a particular mode of the universal: "it exists in as many instances as there are persons, so that something qualitatively equivalent to the Whole exists in every being which forms part of the Whole, giving special meaning to the idea that 'all is one.' In this case, the Whole would in some sense be present in every part of the All...."

So at least we have that going for us.

Now, incarnation and ascension are the penultimate examples of (↓) and (↑), respectively -- the ultimate examples again being Cosmogenesis and Cosmobliteration, Creation and Apocalypse. Furthermore, this incarnation and ascension are not just God's business but our isness, insofar as we are true to our microcosmic deustiny.

And with that, I think I'll just patiently wait for this year to O-bliterate before my very I.

In ether worlds, just like any other day.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death!

Before going off-road and venturing into the higher bewilderness, let's begin with a little invOcation by Eckhart, shall we?

One must here come to a transformed knowing, and this unknowing must not come from ignorance; rather, from knowing one must come into an unknowing. Then, we will become knowing with divine knowing and then our unknowing will be ennobled and clothed with supernatural knowing. And here, in that we are in a state of receiving, we are more perfect than if we were active.

Bolton makes a lot of fine points in Self and Spirit, but it seems to me that the ultimate one is the somewhat paradoxical idea that twoness, or dualism, is higher than oneness, or monism; or perhaps that One is intrinsically two and therefore three, the latter of which is "higher" than both, since, to put it mythematically, the infinite + the finite must (in a manner of speaking, of course) = more than the pure infinite alone. (As I said, I'm just going to be thinking out loud here, so don't mind me.)

We could also say that love is higher than union; or, that true union is a unity in which differences are preserved and bound together by love -- which becomes, or reveals, their inner unity. I mean, if I have to completely obliterate myself in order to be in union with God, what kind of union is that? Isn't that a little like being married to Alec Baldwin?

Bolton falls within the traditionalist camp, but he is clearly deviating from Schuon and most of his clones in hewing to a dualistic metaphysic.

Bolton feels that Schuon, in order to harmonize all of the diverse revelations -- and one of our commenters has made this point in the past -- basically assumed the truth of the pure nondualist metaphysics of Advaita Vedanta, and then crammed the rest of the religions into that framework, even if it occasionally involved some tendentious reasoning, and gave short shrift to the actual beliefs of this or that religion. In short, both Guenon and Schuon "assume that the Hindu wisdom as interpreted by Shankara is the medium in which the different traditions are [to be] reconciled."

This obviously has a certain superficial appeal, for there is no question that on some level "all is one." But the question is, what kind of One? For when you say "all is one," you might just as well say "all is none." Not only is it a meaningless statement, it is unmeaningable -- no different than saying "all is all" or "one is one."

Furthermore, what is the ontological status of the entity that knows "all is one?" As Bolton says, "Any such answer must include some proof that the self is a reality in its own right, and not just a collective name for a succession of more or less related phenomena with no integrating principle." For if the self is not in some sense real, then there is nothing it can objectively say about anything, let alone, God.

This is a critical question, because on it hinges not just the reality and the dignity of the personal self, but the entire possibility of any intrinsic meaning at all, since meaning can only exist in reference to something else. If all is simply one, it is another way of saying that life is completely meaningless -- which some Vedantins and Buddhists come close to saying, i.e., that the world is maya (illusion) and nothing else.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Sri Aurobindo was completely opposed to this idea. You could even say that he was the polar opposite of Schuon, in the sense that he attempted to "Christianize" Vedanta, as opposed to Vedanta-izing Christianity. He regarded the realm of maya as a conscious power that can be easily reconciled with a Christian logo-centric conception of reality. He felt that the world was worthy of our being in it, and vice versa. The cosmos is not just one big freaking mistake.

If the personal self (we are speaking of the soul, or psychic being, not the ego) is a pure illusion, then so too is the personal God (which Schuon ultimately conceded, placing God on the side of cosmic maya). Again, as Bolton emphasizes, "the importance of this is far from being merely of personal interest, because all metaphysics and religion would be reduced to nothing if the self were not an objective reality."

Here we can see that "extremes meet," in that the implications of strictly nondual monism would be identical to those of gross materialism: that you are nothing in a world of absolute meaninglessness -- a double nothing. One could hardly regard life as a "gift," but a kind of curse, or a nuisance at best -- "a cancer on the body of nothingness."

Now, interestingly, both Buddhism and Vedanta speak of "liberation," whereas Christianity speaks of salvation, something very different. I think this goes to the heart of the matter, not just for the individual, but for all of creation, for Christianity also speaks of somehow salvaging the whole existentialada. What did Paul say? The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage and corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Rom 8:21). Can't get more clear than that.

Here we cannot avoid a discussion of eschatology, for eschatology is none other than the study of the last end of things, i.e., their ultimate meaning -- again, for both self and cosmos. As Bolton writes, "the true nature of a being cannot be understood without a knowledge of its last ends. The very question as to whether or not salvation is a possibility for the self makes a fundamental difference to what we think the self is." To put it another way, "misunderstandings of the self lead to misunderstandings of everything else."

So, what is the personal self, the individual as such? Here again, the materialistic and nondual conceptions converge and agree that it is squat. But What about Bob?! What difference does it make to Bob if Bob ultimately reduces either to matter or to God, and disappears in the process? I say, give me immortality or give me death! (in the immortal words of Firesign Theatre).

Now, here is another irony: it is the monistic conception of the world that leaves us with an irreconcilable dualism, in that one side or the other of the dualism must go -- for the materialist, spirit; for the Vedantin, matter. The result is "an almost exact parallel of the Cartesian conception of soul and body where neither has anything in common with the other." The Cartesian says, "I think, therefore I am." The Vedantin says "I am, therefore I think." But the Raccoon says, "God is, therefore I am. And that's why I can fruitfully and objectively think, to boot."

In other words, to say "I am one with God," is a kind of truism, but with important implications, for as Bolton says, "union in this context must mean what it says, and not simply the elimination of one side of the relation." Otherwise, we are simply avoiding a serious inquiry into the exceedingly strange situation of the Incarnation, both His and ours.

[R]ealizing the birth of the Word in the [soul's] ground is inseparable from the Incarnation of the Divine Word: the ground that we seek to attain is nothing other than the ground of Christ. --Bernard McGinn

Monday, December 29, 2008

How to be a Big unKnow-it-All

As I mentioned in last Saturday's post, I recently had the opportunity to reread Robert Bolton's Self and Spirit. I first read it about a year ago and probably intended to discuss it at the time, but quickly moved onto something else -- I think his previous book, Gnosis -- and then forgot about it. But the book is full of important insights that I'd like to spend some time expanding upon and assimilating.

Also, I think we'll let me, Bob's Unconscious, take the wheel of the bus, so this interior duologue may or may not be of benefit to you. Which doesn't matter much anyway, since we seem to have run off most of our readers with the the lengthy MOTT series. We're down to the diehards, dead-enders, cultists, and stalkers.

The point is, Bob's Unconscious does not -- cannot -- write for an "audience." Rather, he -- or we -- just rants. Also, since we are attempting to articulate the "unThought known," we have to somehow bypass the entity that already "knows it all." In other words, we're taking the keys to the bus away from Bob.

Consider this a peek into the supraterranean One Cosmos liberatory, where you can actually see some of our delicious products in the process of being made, using only the finest theologoumena, and then offering them to you fully half-baked.

Now, speaking of the unThought known, this is one of the most vital virtual organs for the detection of God. Without it, you're pretty much screwed and going to hell, gosh! It's analogous to a "sense of humor," which is not itself funny, but the ability to know what is funny ahead of time. The latter is an empty category, or a "preconceptual readiness" to appreciate humor in whatever form it arises. You may have noticed that a gifted comedian is often able to see the humor in some everyday situation that goes unnoticed by most people. The humor is already in us, but we don't explicitly think about it until the comedian "reminds" us of it, which then causes us to laugh with re-cognition.

I would say that Raccoon theology is somewhat like that. It's not as if the B'ob tells you anything you don't already know, I mean, right? Rather, he mainly gives voice to preconceptual airy-fairy things you may not have consciously thought about. Hence, the sacred "guffah-HA!" experience when he punches you right in the nous and gets a clean kill. But this is true of all real theology, which is aimed at vertical re-collection. Whenever Bob's or anyone else's key fits perfectly into your unThought known, you will notice a little "tickle." You should try to be aware of this and eventually transform it into more of a real chortle or belly laugh. Ho!

It's also somewhat like being a good cook. We think of someone having a good visual or verbal imagination, but having a good gustatory imagination is a thing apart -- like having a good "tactile imagination," which I suppose blind people possess. A good and adventurous cook can presumably combine ingredients in unexpected ways, because he has a sort of highly developed "foretaste" of potentially tasty combinations. Frankly, I think this is how advances take place in any field, which was one of Polanyi's core points -- the idea that the scientific researcher is guided by tacit foreknowledge of, say, an as yet undiscovered chile recipe.

But at the same time, it's a tricky balance, because if your mind is saturated with too much foreknowledge, then it closes off the possibility of new discoveries. And this may sound like blasphemy, but who said that all the great theological discoveries have already been made? At the very least, I know for sure that they haven't been made by Bob. I mean, I could take someone else's word for it, but I'm not much interested in second hand theology unless it specifically illuminates my own unThought known. Theology's the ultimate adventure, baby. It's not supposed to be just mechanical memorization.

The other book we've been rereading is McGinn's excellent introduction to the mystical theology of Meister Eckhart, The Man From Whom God Hid Nothing. Who knows if it was providential or cooncidental, but I am finding that these two books illuminate one another into a "higher third," and you might say that it is this "third" to which we are attempting to give birth in concrete form.

The birth metaphor is quite exact, and in fact, this was one of Eckhart's key psimiles -- that the birth of the Word is eternally recapitulated in the ground of the soul. Jesus reconciles creation with Creator on a macro scale, but we must nevertheless engage in the same activity on a micro scale, i.e., "the imitation of Christ." You might say that he blazed the trail, but that doesn't mean that we don't have to take the journey. It just means the journey is possible, because Christ is always coming down and "taking on" human nature: "Since we possess human nature, the same nature that the Word united to himself, by grace we are now Christ's 'personal being'" (McGinn).

Also, you definitely have to appreciate Eckhart's outrageous sense of humor, which, unfortunately, the religious authorities of the time did not. He uses humor in a zen sort of way, in order to jolt you out of your habitual way of seeing things. He is the True GagDaddy.

Eckhart reveled in "word games that are meant to be both playful and serious insofar as they 'play' a role in the practice of deconstructing the self and freeing it from all that pertains to the created world. Identity in the ground [of being] is a 'wandering' and 'playful' identity.... Speaking to a restricted group of learned God-seekers, he also feels free to indulge... in paradox, oxymoron, and hyperbole," the "rare and subtle" forms of speech "that comprise the 'shock treatment' of a mystical discourse designed to awaken by challenging traditional modes of speaking and understanding" (McGinn).

Like the unThought known, "the ground is transcendentally real as 'pure possibility,'" and "is the 'place' from which the mystic must learn to live, act, and know" (McGinn). It is also flowing and spontaneous, like jazz: "Many of Eckhart's sermons have an improvisational character, appearing as a series of virtuoso variations on oft-repeated themes."

I didn't intend to get so deeply into Eckart, but I did want to mention what he said about the unThought known: "This not-knowing draws [the soul] into amazement and keeps her on the hunt, for she clearly recognizes 'that he is,' but she does not know 'what' or 'how' he is.... [T]he unknown-knowing keeps the soul constant and still on the hunt" (Eckhart). McGinn says that "this incommunicable knowledge keeps the mystic ever on the inward path, not turned outside."

Now, this "inward path" is the path back to God. Just yesterday Bob was comparing it to a sort of vertical mine shaft, in which we must all work in darkness, taking one blow after another, occasionally pulling out a nugget of gold, and getting closer each day to the Fatherlode. It's there. We can sense it with our charcoal activated cOOnvision, like old Walter Huston smells the gold in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Here's how Eckhart describes the cOOnvision: "Though it may be called an unknowing, an uncomprehending, it still has more within it than all knowing and comprehending outside it, for this unknowing lures and draws you from all that is known, and also from yourself."

The B'ob make many veiled references to this in the Cosmobliteration section of the Coonifesto, such as unknowculate your brain; leave your apprehensions behind; knowing without knowledge all that can be unKnown; return your soul to its upright position and extinguish all (me)mories; etc.

Also, the importance of having a divine sense of humor at the outset: last rung in's a written gag; your seenil grammar and gravidad may not be malapropriate for my laughty revelation; that's the New Man, we're just putting him on; when you reach a ribald age you can grasp the wheel of this broken-down trancebardation, etc.

And not a moment sooner!