Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Gastrocosmology and Theophagy: Eat, Drink, and be Mary

New topic: Robert Bolton's very important The One and the Many, which I read a couple of months ago, but only now have time (I hope -- it's going to be a busy month) to review. This book made a huge impression on me at the time, and the least I can do is try to remember why.

That's no joke. As I've mentioned before, the purpose of reviewing these books -- some of which require ten, twenty, thirty or more posts -- is to actually assimilate their content. This is especially important with books of this caliber, which are not merely "books" but "transmissions," so to speak.

In other words, it is not just information that is being conveyed, but a whole plane of being, without which the information makes no sense. It's analogous to when you must first download an application in order to do something with your computer (and always be careful about what you download -- one must beware of hidden viruses, especially retroviruses that only manifest later).

And when I say "assimilate," I mean this quite literally. It is analogous to eating, which somehow results in the pizza or apple or broccoli weaving itself into your own substance.

How does this actually happen? Who knows. But there is a certain sequence one must follow: preparation, taking in, chewing, swallowing, breaking down, digesting, etc. And there are things that can go wrong -- deeply wrong -- at each one of these stages. It would require too much of a sidetrack to get into details, but this is one of the bases of Melanie Klein's theories of psychological development, which formed the basis of Bion's thought.

For example, in therapy, you give the patient an "interpretation," which is like a kind of psychic/emotional food intended to result in growth. But what will the patient do with it? You have no control over that. And you'd be amazed at the range of possibilities that deviate from "assimilating" and "understanding."

Some people spit it out immediately. Others swallow it so quickly without chewing, that there's no time to think about it, and then they ask for more (which excludes gratitude). Others are so emotionally starving that they just want to be fed more interpretations for the feelings of intimacy with the therapist-mother (thinking about the interpretation would imply too much separation). Others store it in their cheek, and then chew on it by themselves only after they have safely left the session. Others swallow it, but vomit it out afterwards. Some are hungry again an hour later ("Chinese psychiatry"). Some bring their own food to the session, and try to feed the therapist. Some pretend that they feed themselves, and that they do not require anything from the outside. Some accept the nutrition, but not the generous spirit in which it is given, splitting off the one from the other. Some devalue it as a toxic poison; others idealize it as manna; and so on.

Yes, it probably sounds crazy until you see it in practice. Then you realize that it is crazy.

The subtitle of Bolton's book is A Defense of Theistic Religion. Why "theistic religion?" Isn't that a pleonasm, a redundancy? No, not at all. For Bolton is a dissenter within the Traditionalist camp, which, as we have noted in the past, sees a "transcendent unity of religion," but at the cost of essentially downgrading the personal God to a secondary principle (if you're not yet familiar with Schuon's metaphysics, don't worry -- everything will become clear as we proceed).

That is, the Guenon-Schuon school of Traditionalism reconciles the major orthodox revelations by essentially situating them within a closet nondual (advaita) Vedanta. Therefore, their first principle is the "beyond being" of the nirguna brahman, in which personal identity is completely swallowed up and obliterated. If you dine with the Brahman, bring a long spoon!

Indeed, there's no way of getting around it: not only are you on the side of maya -- or cosmic illusion -- but so is the personal God. Both you and God are ultimately absorbed in the One; which, to extend our little gastrointestinal metaphor, is a little like eating the pizza and becoming the pizza instead of vice versa. For this is the ultimate goal of traditional yogic practice: to throw oneself under the cosmic bus, and merge with the Infinite. No self, no problem.

Now, I've greatly simplified the nondual position, but nevertheless, there is no way to reconcile it with a metaphysic that places the personal God at the top of the cosmic hierarchy. Only one approach can be the absolutely correct one. It is in this context that Bolton's book is "a defense of theistic religion." However, as we shall see, the arguments he puts forth cut both ways, into nondualism on the one hand, and materialism on the other.

In fact, one of Bolton's most provocative insights is that nondualism is ironically a kind of approach to religion that is intellectually acceptable to the soul who has been so shaped by modern materialism that it can no longer accept traditional religion. For nondualism and materialism share the underlying commonality of being intrinsically monistic, whereas Christianity is intrinsically dualistic (and actually trinitarian, but we'll get to that later). In a way, nondualism is a mirror image of materialism, for neither has a place for the individual human soul as a truly real reality.

Another important point raised by Bolton is that nondualism isn't actually the only interpretation of the Vedas, let alone the predominant one. That is, there are dualistic interpretations of the Vedas that are compatible with Western religion, most notably, in Ramanuja, who came a couple hundred years after Shankara, and disagreed with the latter's radical nondualism. I used to think that Ramanuja was a kind of degeneration from Shankara, whereas now I would consider him an evolution to a higher and deeper understanding.

Well, I don't think I have time to actually get into the book this morning. Just consider this a desultory preramble. To be continued...

31 Comments:

Blogger walt said...

Yes, you're just a (pre)ramblin' man....

But one man's "desultory" is another man's "appetizer," so I'll elbow my way to the front of the trough for your review of this one.

For some reason, I had missed the fact that Bolton is from the Traditionalist School.

12/02/2009 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Warren said...

Very glad to see you discussing the Bolton book, which I just read a couple of weeks ago. Bolton seems to have turned against non-dualism for pretty much the same reasons that I did.

Oddly, politics really was a tip-off in this regard. I kept asking myself, "How come all the non-dualists I know are also Leftists? Is there some connection?" Well, yeah, as it turns out, there's a big connection, but it took me years to see it, let alone understand it.

>> Some people spit it out immediately. Others swallow it quickly without chewing... Others store it in their cheek... Others swallow it, but vomit it out afterwards.

I suppose that true Raccoons wash it first.

12/02/2009 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trying to find a more extensive biography on Bolton online. Coming up short. Any suggestions?

12/02/2009 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

I'm all ears.

12/02/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Alan said...

Pulling up a comfy seat with popcorn and my copy of this book - usually I find books like this one require a "pre-read" for me to ultimately understand. This one required a "pre-pre-read" before I even got to the "pre-read". This series of posts couldn't come at a better time as the books sits beside my on my desk and taunts me.

Warren: great reinforcement about the political observation.

12/02/2009 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous GB @ work said...

Very astute observation by Warren. I'll actually be weaving in the political implications as we go along. Call it "metaphysical conservatism."

12/02/2009 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

Well, being a political conservative and a non-dualist at the same time just causes a dissonance that can't be overlooked forever. You realize that there must be some kind of fundamental contradiction in your world-view. Eventually, you have to decide which one you think is right and just drop the other one. At least I found it to be so.

I suppose that Leftists who are at least nominally Christian must suffer from the same kind of philosophical vertigo.

12/02/2009 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bolton has a number of essays on this site

http://www.sacredweb.com/online_articles/sw4_bolton.html

12/02/2009 02:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems to be an error with the web address.

12/02/2009 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Warren,
I suppose that Leftists who are at least nominally Christian must suffer from the same kind of philosophical vertigo.

You'd think so. I know quite a few of them who appear to manage without any cognitive dissonance whatsoever. Many of them also attend churches whose leaderships are openly anti-Israel; it would be surprising if there weren't some kind of correlation.

12/02/2009 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

>> I know quite a few of them who appear to manage without any cognitive dissonance whatsoever.

I was assuming that they were reflective - that they actually, you know, THOUGHT about things once in a while at least... But you're right, I forgot that Leftism is entirely faith-based.

12/02/2009 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

But there is a certain sequence one must follow: preparation, taking in, chewing, swallowing, breaking down, digesting, etc. And there are things that can go wrong -- deeply wrong -- at each one of these stages.

Apparently. Like the dollar sized hole carved in the top of my head last Wednesday right down to the skull to remove a large melanoma. How weird is it to present at my most vertical point? The irony is not lost on me.

It will get bigger next week when they remove about 3 inches more, as well as punching a couple more holes in my neck as part of a sentinel node biopsy. I always wanted to be a friar, just not a Frankenfriar.

Turns out I really did have something on my mind all along.

12/02/2009 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Dude.

12/02/2009 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Damn. That's was a bitter pill for me to swallow and digest Starfish. Mega prayers for complete remission. Cowboy has 3 year old scar, about 8" in length between his shoulder blades, and is in excellent health today. You will be just fine too! Keep the faith.

12/02/2009 06:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Sean said...

"metaphysical conservatism"

I'm on the edge of my seat, breath held!!!

Bob and Warren....God, I love this blog!!!!

Sean

12/02/2009 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Robin...wow. What a shock. Prayers going up for your complete recovery.

12/02/2009 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Prayers up tonight, Robin. Stay strong.

12/02/2009 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie Godwin said...

Dear Robin,
I'm so shocked and sorry to hear about your melanoma.

Please continue to update us as often as possible. We'll be praying for you.

Blessings and prayers,
Mrs. G

12/02/2009 08:56:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Holy Schniekes, Robin - add my prayers, too! I hope they get it all, and that the healing process is quick and as painless as possible.

12/02/2009 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

It's good to see this ain't affected your keen sense of humor, Dojo.

More prayers coming your way along with the hope for a quick healin'. Hang in there.

12/02/2009 10:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

Sir Robin-

I'll drink (a lot) to yer health and cast a few prayers yer way from the crows nest (it's a bit closer to Him up thar, if you catch my drift).

The friar/monk look is always in style, but yer head might get cold during winter, so I'll send you my special remedy.

12/02/2009 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

Thanks, all. Just so ya know, I have no intention of fading away any time soon. Taking a few layers off the top does let a little extra light through.

12/02/2009 10:43:00 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

Robin- prayers for you, Mrs. Robin and all concerned. Offering up my Holiday Store work this year for you, special.

12/03/2009 05:46:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Robin:

I say, don't even worry your pretty little head. My best friend at work had it some two decades ago, when he was in his 30s -- and I think it's actually more serious if you're younger -- and it had even spread to at least one lymph node in his neck.

He's been fine ever since. The only drawback is an annual visit to a dermatologist who strikes me as being a little too enthusiastic about examining every square inch of his body -- not only places that have never known the sun's rays, but places where the sun could never even shine. I told him to make sure he actually has a medical license, because something similar once happened between Dupree and a West Hollywood tattoo artist.

12/03/2009 06:42:00 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

That's the Spirit, RS.
And prayers to boot, coming your way from here too..
RR

12/03/2009 06:56:00 AM  
Anonymous yuri said...

Tattooed inside: "Ring of Fire"?

12/03/2009 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

GB: Ha ha! Already had the first 'once-over'. ;-)

12/03/2009 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"In other words, it is not just information that is being conveyed, but a whole plane of being, without which the information makes no sense."

Yep, the many need to have a One to be many of.

"It's analogous to when you must first download an application in order to do something with your computer (and always be careful about what you download -- one must beware of hidden viruses, especially retroviruses that only manifest later)."

Ain't that the truth, and even the best packages either have them, or have gaps where the viruses can burrow in from... or if you're Microsoft, or The West, you've got both.

Careful with that double-clicking.

;-)

wv: messes
It's showing off again.

12/04/2009 07:04:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Warren said "Oddly, politics really was a tip-off in this regard. I kept asking myself, "How come all the non-dualists I know are also Leftists? Is there some connection?" Well, yeah, as it turns out, there's a big connection, but it took me years to see it, let alone understand it."

Yep, and when you press either side on Quality/Quantity, One/Many, Rights/Needs, you'll always find that no matter whatever garb they might be wearing, their team colors come out flying high.

12/04/2009 07:08:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Warren said "Well, being a political conservative and a non-dualist at the same time just causes a dissonance that can't be overlooked forever. You realize that there must be some kind of fundamental contradiction in your world-view. Eventually, you have to decide which one you think is right and just drop the other one."

Very, very true. You can see that happen with J.S. Mill, he was obviously inclined, at least by sentiment, to The West, individuality, Free Market, Liberty... but his fundamentals were opposed to it, Utilitarianism, didn't believe in free will... eventually that side won out, and he wound up a socialist.

Trying to get my new libertarianish compadre's to see that at the moment, but all they can see of "On Liberty" is the cover... they're have some gastronomical difficulties with my cooking!

12/04/2009 07:14:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Holy crap Robin!

(ahem... sorry... and no pun with the tonsure implied)

Geez, in my thoughts and prayers....

12/04/2009 07:17:00 AM  

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