Thursday, December 03, 2009

Una and Saguna*, or the Juan and the Manny

The One and the Many: A Defense of Theistic Religion. I think I'll just go through the book chapter by chapter, and offer my reflections, refractions, and refreshments. All of Bolton's books are worth reading; while challenging, I think this has partly to do with his style of writing, which sometimes comes just shy of complete clarity. But when you're as brilliant as he is, there are probably few people to talk to and thereby fine-tune the message. I believe we've reviewed each of his other books in the past (they can all be found in the metaphysics aisle of the Raccoon Store).

The question of the relation of the One and the Many is a perennial one, not just for theology but for philosophy. Really, it might be the first question that confronts man in his awakened state (which is to say, Man): what's more real, or more fundamental, the One or the Many? The unity or the multiplicity? The Dodgers or Manny Ramirez? Is the One merely an abstract sum of the Many, or are the Many merely a concrete emanation or feature of the One? The manner in which you resolve this question at the outset will determine a multitude of logical corollaries and entailments that follow. Watch that first metaphysical step, for it is indeed a doozy!

For example, if multiplicity is considered the primary reality, this implies a metaphysic of logical atomism -- a universe of autonomous parts that are not only separate, but external to one another other, like billiard balls. But if the One is the ground of reality, then everything we perceive as separate is actually part of a higher unity with interior relations.

In the latter view, the One cannot be the sum of the parts -- a mere agglomerate, or blob -- but the parts must be organismically related in the manner of biological form. Obviously, the parts of one's body are in no way radically separate from one another, but deeply related. Their "parthood" only exists in light of the functional wholeness of the body. Each part contains the genetic blueprint of the whole, and yet, "knows" its place in the overall scheme.

In fact, we can even define pathology as an oppressive wholeness that denies the reality of the parts, or, conversely, a part that begins acting autonomously, split off from the whole (e.g., cancer, in which cells "rebel" against the body, parts against whole, scalp against Robin, or diabetes, where it's my pancreas vs. the "friendly fire" of an excessively vigilant immune system).

Right away, I think you can appreciate some of the political implications of the One-Many duality (which as we will later see, is actually a complementarity). For example, Islamists wish to eliminate the individual through the imposition of sharia law, while the left wishes to do so through the massive and intrusive state -- for the bigger the state, the smaller the citizen.

In contrast, libertarians exalt the part (the individual) to the exclusion of the whole (the spiritual community), which is why true conservatives can only have an uneasy relationship with them. Not surprisingly, capital-L Libertarians (i.e., Paulians, Randians, and members of the party of one) split off entirely from the conservative insurrection, which is why they will always be an insignificant minority, or chaotic herd of eccentrics.

Anyway, back to Bolton. He notes that "the ways in which these questions are answered are vital for any understanding of the way in which God and the world are related." And -- not to get too far ahead of ourselves -- it just so happens that orthodox Christianity, in addition to its other virtues, provides the most comprehensive solution -- indeed, the only solution -- to this primordial conundrum.

Certainly materialistic science cannot resolve it. Rather, it just makes it go away by denying half the complementarity, even while sneaking the denied half in through the back door. But they're not very clever or subtle about it. For example, to even say "cosmos" is to affirm a transcendent oneness of which we are all participants. Indeed, the practice of science is not even possible -- let alone intelligible -- in the absence of an intuition of the One; for to paraphrase Huxley, all science is the reduction of multiplicity to unity.

Bolton agrees that the relation of One and Many is hardly an abstract or impractical question. Again, it underlies the fundamental divide between left and right, theist and atheist: "The manner in which the relation of the One and the Many is understood, however confusedly, has an influence which extends even to politics" -- and not just party politics. For example, the American system of government was deliberately set up so that the One (the executive) would be balanced by the Many (the congress), with a "holy spirit" (the Law) in between.

Now, as we all know, some of the degraded (or at least diminished) forms of contemporary religiosity often engage the will and sentiments to the exclusion of the intellect, and that's what theo-Coonservatism is here to redress: wisdom and what to do with it. But as Bolton explains, "for many Westerners, spiritual wisdom is taken to mean a supremacy of the One to an extent which makes everything else unreal." To simplify matters, we can say that these approaches to Spirit are purely "ascending" (↑), so that they represent a neo-Platonic flight from multiplicity -- maya -- or a journey into the One.

Now, for those of us who believe in Divine revelation, this is rather problematic, to say the least, for it "can only mean that revelation does not really reveal anything, since this approach equates the contents of revelation with externals and inessentials." In other words, if the nondualists are correct, then everything -- everything -- on this side of the One is ultimately unreal, including God, revelation, value, love, beauty, you and "I" (meaning any form of "other" or interior self in relation to it; indeed, all relation is negated as well).

We can see this play out in the antipathy of Eastern religionists to what they call the "ego." Quite clearly, it is impossible to reconcile such a view with the Western appreciation of the individual. It appears that something must be lost in the translation between "ego" and "individual," because, as Bolton emphasizes, the latter, "in its best forms... is the source of everything of lasting value, whether spiritually or naturally..." But for the Ascenders, "it is as though the moral tension which belongs with personality [is] no longer experienced as an adventure and a challenge, but only as a burden." No ego, no problem. But also, no science, democracy, capitalism, dynamism or progress. For me, that would be a big problem.

To value the individual is by no means to deny the One. Indeed, the individual can have no real value -- let alone infinite value -- except in relation to the One. As Bolton explains, "The natural life by itself always tends to greater multiplicity, and therefore to self-dissipation...." In other words, ironically, an excessive concern with the autonomous separateness of the ego results only in further fragmentation. Based on observations of people I know, this is because, in order to maintain the illusion of separateness, more and more reality must be denied, in the manner of radical Darwinists, whose theory is rigidly consistent, but at the cost of an absurd and truly childish incompleteness. Thus, a Darwinist can only be a "pseudo-individual," not the kind we are talking about.

But another deep irony is that the anti-modern religionist can find himself in the same leaky boat, only on the far starboard side: "Monistic [i.e., materialist] and non-dualistic thinkers are more at home in this ethos than they care to admit, and they play their part in the prevailing cult of reduction, no matter how unintentionally, while they want to express the wisdom of tradition" (Bolton).

However, some materialists are actually happy to admit it. For example, the lowbrow atheist Sam Harris seems to have no problem with Eastern approaches that really amount to no more than a kind of glorified self-hypnosis. Thus, he unwittingly but inevitably (because of the a priori rejection of wisdom, or the Word) embraces the most flagrantly anti-intellectual forms of spirituality, a la Deepak Chopra and his grubby ilk.

To be continued....

*Saguna Brahman

29 Comments:

Blogger Warren said...

Wondered if you'd bring up Sam Harris. He is one of the best illustrations of the truth of Bolton's thesis that non-dualism - at least as espoused by modern Westerners - is really nothing but atheistic materialism couched in spiritual-sounding jargon.

12/03/2009 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Not just him, but most of the new-age/integral movement. Again, it is no surprise whatsoever that they are all leftists.

12/03/2009 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to scry what spiritual impressions would shake out in a person with no desires: eg, no unmet needs and no anticipation of any future unmet needs.

Such a person would have no desire to keep the world the same, or to change it, or themselves.

Would have enough food, shelter, material chattel, affection, sex and love, and additionally would be unconcerned if she did not have these things.

The ego and the storm of emotions: Such a person would be fine having an immense ego, and equally fine if it was effaced.

Had no preference for one emotion over the other.

The person is not bored, elated, jaded, deppressed, or conversely runs the gamut of all emotions randomly and still is unconcerned.

No philosophical leanings, or conversely, leaned immensely on one or all philosophies, at different times.

Remove all of the usual emotions, tendencies, preferences and motivators, and what then would such a person think/say about the cosmos?

They may just say something inscrutable. Probably you could tell by looking at them that they Know Something. But what?

That is the question.

12/03/2009 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

...the One (the executive) would be balanced by the Many (the congress), with a "holy spirit" (the Law) in between.

The "in between" was precisely what was missing in Obama's address at West Point this week. For example.

12/03/2009 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Warren said...

>> Not just him, but most of the new-age/integral movement.

Oh, true. But the difference is that Harris openly screams his atheism from the rooftops, while at the same time allying himself with various pseudo-mystical ideas. Most of the New Age and/or Integral folks are not nearly so explicit or honest about their atheism, at least in my experience.

And that is the closest I will ever come to praising Sam Harris....

12/03/2009 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Paulians in no way have split off from true conservatism, because they recognize that states have the right to legislate on behalf of the community.

They just don't want one super-government legislating for everyone; if we respected states' rights, for example, from the outset of Roe v. Wade many states would have outlawed abortion.

12/03/2009 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"It was when I was happiest that I longed most...The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing...to find the place where all the beauty came from." C. S. Lewis, "Till We Have Faces"

12/03/2009 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

That was @Anonymous. There's no "person" without desire.

12/03/2009 01:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The new age/integral movement is largely based on meditation.

The reason the NAIM groups spin to the left politically is because most arise in the Northern California area, a bastion of Democrats.

The "take home" element of the NAIM is the phenomenon of "take away."

The basic postulate is that if you remove enough stuff (thoughts, desires, past, future), then the underlying Godhead inside your own noggin becomes foregrounded. In essence, get out of your own way.

Bob's approach to spirit in part consists of philosophical study and the writing of his essays. This would be seen by the NAIM as an approach ramp or preparation for meditation and contact with Godhead, but all of it would have to removed during meditaiton so the requisite space needed for the bacgrounded Godhead to come to the fore could be acheived.

The question for the NAIM would be whether philosophical study is "worth it" from a cost/benefit standpoint.

There is a risk of getting attached to, and conditioned by, philosophy and thereby masking your own basic understanding of Godhead, which theoretically is already present and waiting for you to be silent and listen.

Every racoon should ask themselves, could there be something to this?

12/03/2009 02:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

And they only get one guess.

12/03/2009 02:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Kathy Lee said...

I'd like to use my 50/50, Reeg!

12/03/2009 02:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Howard said...

I commend to your attention the compilation, "I AM THAT," of more than 100 Q&A discussions between Nisargadatta Maharaj and a range of visitors seeking understanding of reality.

The topics go the head and heart of the matter and beyond. Translated into simple English,the read will gnaw away at your seeming self until, as the Trappist monks say,

12/03/2009 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Nisargadatta's erroneous belief that "there is only life, there is nobody who lives a life" is precisely what we are in the process of blowing to smithereens.

12/03/2009 03:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Howard, I would reply, to chip away at the self until there is nothing left, as per the Trappist Monk, is as wrong a movement as to aggrandize the self as paramount.

Both approaches are incomplete and unbalanced.

A middle-of-the-road approach, where the self is kept in check and partially effaced, is also a wrong movement when used alone.

Paradoxically, the only correct approach to selfhood is to be both effaced and strongly individualized, and also to incorporate a moderated bit of both.

The trick is to spread things out over time, so that at one point you are egoistic and violent at work, then get quiet and efface oneself for awhile in meditation, then go to see your mate and love her as a partially effaced self.

Nothing less than the full range accomodates human growth.

So Bob, you don't necessarily want to blow the "only one life, noone who lives the life" to smithereens. It has its time and place too and is true and valid, while also not denying the validity of individuality.

A very fluid and overarching conceptualization is needed in the area of selfhood to avoid hardening oneself into an untenable position.

Close the monasterys-they aren't really making the grade?

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

You're both wrong. Stay tuned to find out why!

12/03/2009 05:08:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

The good doctor has written a new prescription for us all.

And, as one reviewer said, "This is the one we've been waiting for ... I'm going to give them for the holidays!"

12/03/2009 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

>> "I AM THAT"

I was quite familiar with Nisargadatta at one time, especially that particular book. Did you ever notice that what he's saying changes utterly, in both substance and style, from book to book, depending upon whom is translating him?

Anyway, his "message" always boils down to nihilism in the end, regardless of the translation.

This is made utterly clear in the talks of Nisargadatta's own anointed successor, Ramesh Balsekar, whose genial nihilism (the very deadliest kind) is right up front. And Balsekar's works are in English, so there's no room for doubt about what he has actually said.

Needless to say, my opinions, along with four bucks or so, will get you an over-sweetened coffee-like drink at Starbucks....

12/03/2009 06:01:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

These spiritual nihilists are pretty much worthless. So I guess we agree, in a way.

12/03/2009 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Search of the day:

coonoscopy

(to which Robin was apparently recently subjected)

12/03/2009 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

I am so stealing that.

12/04/2009 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Is the One merely an abstract sum of the Many, or are the Many merely a concrete emanation or feature of the One? The manner in which you resolve this question at the outset will determine a multitude of logical corollaries and entailments that follow. Watch that first metaphysical step, for it is indeed a doozy!"

Indeed it is. And if you take your first step surefootedly, as did the founders when they put their right foot foward, there's always the chance that the left foot will misstep or slip. We're trying real hard to regain our balance right now.

12/04/2009 07:25:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"In contrast, libertarians exalt the part (the individual) to the exclusion of the whole (the spiritual community), which is why true conservatives can only have an uneasy relationship with them. Not surprisingly, capital-L Libertarians (i.e., Paulians, Randians, and members of the party of one) split off entirely from the conservative insurrection, which is why they will always be an insignificant minority, or chaotic herd of eccentrics."

Oh boy am I ever experiencing the truth of that up close and personal.

12/04/2009 07:27:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Bolton agrees that the relation of One and Many is hardly an abstract or impractical question. Again, it underlies the fundamental divide between left and right, theist and atheist: "The manner in which the relation of the One and the Many is understood, however confusedly, has an influence which extends even to politics" -- and not just party politics. For example, the American system of government was deliberately set up so that the One (the executive) would be balanced by the Many (the congress), with a "holy spirit" (the Law) in between."

Ooohhh... I like that, very good... and of course, very True.

12/04/2009 07:30:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"For example, the lowbrow atheist Sam Harris seems to have no problem with Eastern approaches that really amount to no more than a kind of glorified self-hypnosis. Thus, he unwittingly but inevitably (because of the a priori rejection of wisdom, or the Word) embraces the most flagrantly anti-intellectual forms of spirituality, a la Deepak Chopra and his grubby ilk."

Yep, for all his 'proud' upholding of western science and individuality, he dives into the very worst pools of mysticism imaginable, and not only does he not realize he's all wet, but covered in slime.

Ugh.

12/04/2009 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Anonymous said "The reason the NAIM groups spin to the left politically is because most arise in the Northern California area, a bastion of Democrats."

Heh... so it's a matter of geographical determinism? Come on.

"The "take home" element of the NAIM is the phenomenon of "take away."

Closer to it there, leftism is rooted in Doubt, not "Questioning" as they like to try and present it, but in denial of reality, skepticism, a taking away of one truthful belief after another, trying like mad to get to their goal of nihil.

12/04/2009 07:49:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Warren said "Anyway, his "message" always boils down to nihilism in the end, regardless of the translation."

And regardless of who is saying it or where or for what purpose.

12/04/2009 07:54:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

1,2,3,4,5,6... in a row... ok, with the Seventh comment, I'll rest.

12/04/2009 07:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Van. I have time to rebut you this fine Friday.

I stand in the docket as counsel for the defence of the NAIM.

The NAIM is not fully oriented around nihilism.

Some parts may be; it is a thinly disguised existenchialism. But the better NAIM's are not nihilistic.

Take OSHO as an example of the better, salmonella and all.

The NAIM will not define what is found after all is taken away but doesn't think it is only void; it may include void but is not limited to that.

There is no doubt to the NAIM. What is looked for is rather easily found.

Take sleep, for instance. Every person gets a chance for full ego effacement every night during sleep.

We all get to be with Source at least daily in a form of natural meditation, called sleep.

So, the methods of NAIM are just an extention of "sleep" mode into other areas of life.

As far as selfhood, it is like water. Ice is like ego, liquid water is like lovers, steam like meditator or dreamer. Many phases, all valid, none cancel the other.

To study religion, to pray, to believe, is all good but at some point you have to quiet yourself and recieve input from Source.

NAIM defence now rests.

12/04/2009 08:25:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

the Niz & Ramesh are masters of Noumenon....I would also add Wei Wu Wei. But true perhaps too 'eastern'---too otherworldly? for our future, the youths del mundo

12/05/2009 05:23:00 AM  

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