Sunday, December 06, 2009

Meaning, Unity, Creation, and Salvation

[T]o be wrong about creation is to be wrong about everything. --Robert Bolton, The One and the Many

As we have discussed in the past, meaning, purpose, and unity (or wholeness) are all functions of one another. To see the whole is to understand the meaning, and vice versa. For example, you can't understand the purpose of the heart if you don't situate it in the context of the body it serves. Likewise, words take on entirely different shades of meaning depending on the sentence in which they are situated.

Again, one of the important points Bolton raises is that nondualism is nihilism; or, you could say that the meaning of existence is its ultimate meaninglessness. He points out the irony that the principle of karma -- of moral cause and effect -- is central to Buddhism.

And yet, when it comes to the totality -- the whole -- "they deny that there is any cause for the world as such. Their passion for causality suddenly evaporates just where causality approaches its most significant consequence." (And please bear in mind that Bolton is not being remotely disrespectful, only trying to clearly describe the differences, and their consequences, between atheistic nondualism and theistic dualism.)

One reason why Bolton's analysis is meaningful to me, is that it exactly describes the trajectory of my own interest in religion. Religion meant nothing to me until I found a form if it that was acceptable to my existential commitments, which were rational, materialistic, and essentially atheistic.

Again, another of Bolton's points -- and it was certainly true of me -- is that Buddhism (especially "bare witnessing" or Zen varieties, which are almost purely technical) is the ideal religion for jaded Westerners who are convinced that they have "risen above" their own "mythological" tradition. Looked at in this way, Zen looks "scientific" (cf. Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness) while Christianity looks very much pre-scientific. Which is why I would now call my approach "post-postmodern," more on which later.

But consider what Buddhism and scientism have in common: "the whole conceptual world of science is absurdly imagined as functioning just the same as though none of those minds which create sciences were part of it," just as "religious anti-personalism imagines a perfect consciousness without any conscious person." This "parallel between them is so close that the two systems may well proceed from the same deep flaw in human consciousness, a selective mental blindness" (Bolton).

Indeed, it is almost as if western science sees the world through the lens of the left brain, while the east sees it through the right (and there is actually scientific confirmation of this idea -- cf. The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... and Why).

But Raccoon doctrine insists upon the centrality of the transcendent position, or psychic third, that is simultaneously born of, and unifies, left and right, east and west, conscious and supraconscious, wave and particle, boxers and briefs.

Bolton notes that "the final destiny of all beings cannot be separated from their origin," which, of course, was the point of the circular structure of my book, in which everything revolves around our descent from, ascent to, and descent back from the Creator. Again, the world of scientific materialism is purely linear, in which case my book could only have ended with, say, an eternal ellipsis (.... .... ....) or perhaps something like pi, which just goes on forever: 3.141592653589793238462643 and on and on and on...

But as Eckhart observed, "Being is God's circle, and in this circle all creatures exist."


Only if there is an end can there be a meaning. And Bolton observes that "if we hold that all things are created by God, this final destiny must likewise be God. Conversely, if there were no Creator, there would be no origin and therefore no ultimate destiny for existing beings" -- in which case, nondualism can by no means offer what we call "salvation," since it goes about systematically obliterating precisely what Christians wish to save!

Bolton does not mention -- but I believe it to be the case -- that we needn't first posit God in order to know that existence is meaningful. Rather, it is possible to have experiences of such surpassing meaning that God must exist by implication. To know, for example, that your child is of infinite worth, is to know that God exists. To know that murder is wrong is to know that God exists. To know that we are surrounded by natural beauty is to know that God exists. Etc. Each of these "bears upon" God, and could not exist in the absence of that cosmic vector of metaphysical transparency that draws us back up to our repenthouse mansion. The celestial eschatolator is everywhere!

Conversely, if the world is not created -- if it is not meaningful -- then the most sublime knowledge or beauty are just illusions that must fall into that first principle's orifice. And the converse is equally true: if one does not know love, or truth, or beauty, one surely will not "see" or know God. Rather, one will assume that the cosmos is every bit as meaningless as one's one life. Thus, the "non-God" is just a projection of an alienated ego prematurely exiled from our cosmic womb with a pew.

For in reality -- as Eckhart knew -- we give birth to God as he gives birth to us, in a kind of circular or spiraling flow of intrinsic -- and deepening -- meaning: "Wherever I am, there is God." The I AM "boils over" from the ground of being, until it then overflows into something surpassing it. It doesn't just flow out of the pot and into the flames below. Rather, "In my flowing-out I entered creation, in my breakthrough I re-enter God." Or, "just as God breaks through me, so do I break through God in return" (Eckhart).

Or just say, "All creatures flow and return to their source. Transformed knowledge and love draw up and lead and bring the soul back into the first source of the One, the Creator of all in heaven and on earth" (Eckhart). Please note that this is not "poetry" but a literal description.

No, this here is poetry:

I know, I know... no Plan at all
Is thought by some to be the plan,
And yet what is this sheen of thought
That seeks to measure more than man?


To stand Once within a meadow,
And feel the hands of wind,
Is ample compensation
For the Gift the years rescind.

To be continued...


Joan of Argghh! said...

A fine point of meditation for Advent, to ponder the meaning of Creation and the succinct, inescapable and ineffable sensibility of its intent.

Prepare ye the way. . .

Anonymous said...

Hello Bob

This is a hello note and not a comment to your presesnt blog post.

I first heard about you last night while browsing the EnlightenNext web site and looking for an inspirational audio to listen to before going to sleep. (Like a good bed time story.)

I came across with an interview you gave to Elizabeth Debold - The Good, the True and the Beautiful and listened to part 1 and 2. From then on I ordered your book One Cosmos and have been browsing your blog.

Wow, Four years of blog posts is too much to read in one night! But I have been going back and forth this morning trying to find a thread I could follow from begining to end.

Hard thing to do with the short time I have. So maybe I will just have to wait for your book to arrive and go from there.

Anyway One of the reasons I became so attracted to your work is the fact that you are a psychoanalist and a spiritual seeker (and pandit) at the same time.

I have been debating and contemplating the possibility of transcending the fears and desires of the ego as the only way to become a more evolved human being but also facing the enourmous challenges of this endevour.

So I can hardly wait to read your book and get to understand your metanarrative. Maybe it will bring me some light into my search of a conciliation between psychoanalisis and the spiritual goal of transcendind the narcissist Ego?

By the way I am a practitioner of Evolutionary Enlightenment of Andrew Cohen and have been a patient of Lacanian psychoanalisys for many years.

All the best,


walt said...

Many years ago, I was involved in a small farming operation in northern California. The problem for all small-scale growers is that of marketing and distribution. So in those days, various people were trying to organize co-ops and trucking, to get the grower's produce to market.

We met with one such fellow, who had a big truck or two and whose dream was to connect up organic growers from Arcata to San Francisco. There were no spreadsheets in those days, so he had his "plan" diagrammed neatly on a big roll, like an architect's drawing. His diagram showed how it all was interconnected: stores, cities, routes, growers, and at the end of it was an arrow, like this: ------>.

I asked, "What does the arrow mean?" He replied, "On-going. It means the process just keeps going." That was kind of a tough idea for a farmer to swallow.

Later in life, having been introduced to (Tibetan) Buddhist thought, I encountered that arrow again -- multi-directionally, in this case -- when they described their Creation story:
<-----without beginning or ending----->

There may be something in the Eastern mind that responds to that explanation satisfactorily, but it gives me the feeling of "something not quite right."

As usual, thanks for the post. I often am still mulling them late into the day.

Joe Unlie said...


What the Buddhists say is that Creation- or, in their terms, Samsara, has no beginning, but has an ending- Nirvana. Nirvana has a beginning, but no end.

I've always thought our creation existed within a greater creation, incomprehensible by our tiny primate intellects, and that within another, and within another... like God's matrioshka dolls. So this sort of boundlessness never really felt wrong to me.

In some ways, it was even comforting. Having lived a privileged existence as a member of the midwestern middle-class (think Lake Wobegon), the idea of Nietzsche's eternal recurrence didn't sound awful to me; in fact, it sounded rather comforting. Even moreso if every possible universe existed- so somewhere, I'd get the girl I lost. Somewhere, I'd make a billion dollars. Somewhere, I'd be the president... ad infinitum. Sounded pretty good to me.

One day, however, a friend pointed out the absurdity it leads to.

"So, if the 'multiverse' is unlimited and unbounded, then all possible things, no matter how improbable, must occur somewhere within it?"

"Yup," I replied.

"So somewhere, there's a vast universe made of nothing but self-organized Lava Lamps."

At that point, I knew we had a problem.

Anonymous said...

"if every possible universe existed- so somewhere, I'd get the girl I lost. Somewhere, I'd make a billion dollars. Somewhere, I'd be the president... ad infinitum. Sounded pretty good to me."

I always thought that was a completely absurd argument too. If I roll a pair of dice, the chances of both coming up the same number are fairly good. Three die are much harder to accomplish the same number with. The more you add the tougher it gets. But even with just one pair of dice, it's possible that I could roll them once an hour for all eternity and they might never once both land with the same number up. It's not likely, but it's possible.

The chances of me turning a tumbler of salt over (say a million grains) and all the grains landing on the floor in the shape of the Mona Lisa will probably never happen in my opinion. There are a lot of variables: air current in the room, my ability (or I should say inability) to drop the tumbler from the exact same height every time etc. It's possible that random particles passing through the room bumping into the salt could even change their trajectory slightly for all we know. Particles come and go in space. Any kind of particle can change into any other kind of particle. They can be annihilated into energy and than later back into particles, then into waves and back to particles again. Since the system is constantly changing and in motion, it would seem more reasonable to me that with a nearly unlimited number of particles in the universe, that the chances of there being another earth out there with an exact copy of me will quite simply never happen.

Susannah said...

Okay, let me try this again. It's terribly NOISY in here and I can't seem to proof my comments sufficiently.

I read an article a couple months back in the WaPo Magazine about an American new-agey group that were caught up in the terrorist attacks on Mumbai...the husband and daughter of one of the practitioners were brutally murdered by the terrorists. Here's the woman's testimony:

The article emphasized forgiveness on the part of the practitioners. Yet, their guru taught "oneness" and believed he had reached a field beyond "wrong-doing and right-doing." It was fascinating to me that "forgiveness," a concept that presupposes evil (and thus, good) would even be an issue with somebody who states at the outset that the terrorists aren't "wrong" and somehow, somewhere we are unified with them...etc.

In the Christian conception, forgiveness implies some WRONG that has taken place, hence (duh) the need for forgiveness. Forgiveness in the context of "nonduality" is just incoherent babbling...just sticking a word on some sort of weird attempt at detachment, it seems. I would think this would be hugely damaging to the psyche, as denial of reality usually is...

Anonymous said...

Well, to address Susan's concerns about forgiveness;

I believe it was Aurobindo who said that various things have to be done in the world, including putting a check on destructive people.

He said to be severe, use enough force. But, he said, anger and all other shades of sentimenalism are not needed.

There is no need to hate, forgive, etc. Leave all that behind.

The one thing needful is to do what has to be done and not get all ruffled about it.

Yes, at the base the terrorist and the innocent ARE in fact one, but still that does bear on the practical aspects of the world play/movement.

So, if a terrorist needs killing, kill him.

Do a cost/benefits analysis. Lose the terrorist, gain X number of innocent lives. Its just an easy mathematical formula.

hoarhey said...

"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." --Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180)

And so it goes.

Joe Unlie said...


Nietzsche's argument also relied on only a limited number of possible configurations of matter within infinite time.

Anonymous said...

It just seems to me that the more ingredients you have to work with, the more variations you'll have rather than ever getting two of the same.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

But Raccoon doctrine insists upon the centrality of the transcendent position, or psychic third, that is simultaneously born of, and unifies, left and right, east and west, conscious and supraconscious, wave and particle, boxers and briefs."

Balance...moderation. Now where have I heard that before? :^)
And this is crucial if one is to fullfill their Destiny. "Cause liberty without balance is not truly liberty, and leads to chaos or nihilism.

Outstanbding series of posts, Bob!

surabled said...

"...those who are not members of the cult are not just considered wrong, but dismissed as morons. But one of the bases of wisdom -- which transcends the mere intellectualism of the tenured -- is to know the limits of intelligence."
One could as easily be talking about...God forbid...coons or any other loose affiliation of believers here.

And the left repeatedly fails in this regard, again, because of the replacement of God with human (small r) reason.
And this, I have to study on: It seems to me that the limit of one's discernment (between top-down truth or bottom-up truth) is as much God as one is capable of experiencing, and that is pretty much that. We can label left or right on the way up, but I'm not convinced these labels are meaningful in any hierarchy of spiritual discernment. For me, it's more a matter of emphasis, maybe motive, rather than destination. Style points rather than simply substance, if you will. And perhaps that's a huge point of difference to you. Perhaps for you it is not at all about style, and only about substance. In developing my own ability to discern, I can't always see a spiritual difference between which political direction someone is oriented, but can generally quickly see a difference in why someone is pointed in their chosen direction.