On Discovering the Old World and Rediscovering the New
Not sure if there will be any posting for a few days. Mrs. G. is going to be visiting her ailing father in Florida, so Future Leader will be remanded to my care for the duration. Between picking up pizza three times a day and letting him outside to pee, I don't think I'll have the time.
Someone asked yesterday if I can give a full racoomendation to this extremely condensed version of the Zohar that we've been discussing. I'm not yet sure. But if you're looking for a good introduction to Jewish mysticism in general, you can't do better than Lawrence Kushner, including works such as The River of Light or Honey From the Rock.
In my admittedly limited experience, the majority of books on Kabbalah tend to be either very scholarly and not written by mystical practitioners, or else they are of the vulgar new-age variety. I am quite sure there are exceptions, but I'm just not familiar enough with the terrain. Perhaps Gandalin can help us. I can say that in his suggested readings, Daniel Matt agrees that Honey From the Rock is "quite simply the easiest introduction to Jewish mysticism you can read."
And I wouldn't say "easy" in terms of being facile or simplistic. It's just that Kushner has a gift for vividly expressing the inexpressible and using words to say what mere words can't say. In reading his works, I was struck by the similarity to Meister Eckhart, not just in substance, but style and tone. And of course, one of Eckhart's main influences was Moses Maimonides, whom he held in the highest esteem and cited often.
So there is a dimension in which all of this comes together. However, I don't like to express it exactly in the manner Schuon does, because it can come off sounding a little too schematic when it's really more of a... I don't know, an "adventure in God." Kushner agrees that religions can "become ossified," so that "holy encounters" become "hopelessly encrusted by centuries of mindless repetition." The Light, of course, is still there, but buried beneath the leaves of custom and habit. "And for this reason every spiritual discovery is but a rediscovery."
That may be a good way of expressing it, because not everyone is an adventurer, and there's nothing wrong with that. Some people prefer to settle down in the mapped out and well lit territory -- to ski on the groomed slopes. A few extreme seekers prefer to venture into the ungroomed areas, but this is inherently risky, because you're plunging into the bewilderness.
In any event, the whole innerprize is much more analogous to a painting that we ourselves have to paint than a pneumagraph we can receive from someone else's darkroom.
Also, if you are to survive here, you will have to obtain your own food, and know what to eat and what to avoid. But this is where we can find a drop of spiritual nourishment in "something as mundane as a rock": "And so we eat a little and are satisfied and go on our way" for another day (Kushner).
The point is, on this adventure, there is no supply line back to the base, nor can you take many provisions with you. Rather, you must locate the essential vertimins every day, enough to get you from one day to the next. More generally, you must not only discover, but "discover the way to discover." For the discovery of discovery is the state of unknowing that precedes the knowledge -- or the hunger that precedes the food. Why eat, you'll only get hungry again? Why learn when you'll only be ignorant again? That's why.
In fact, I'm looking at Honey From the Rock right now, and the first chapter is called "The Wilderness of Preparation." Even before that, in the introduction, he expresses ideas that tell you right away that this man is a full-blooded Raccoon. For example,
"It is to begin with, all inside us. But because we are all miniature versions of the universe, it is also found far beyond." (Note right away that he strikes the correct balance between God's radical transcendence and immanence.) "And because we are all biologically and spiritually part of the first man, the place preceded us. And because we all carry within us the genotype and vision of the last man, the place foretold us."
Inside, outside, first man, last man, alpha and omega, "becoming" the self that always was and will be -- as I said, this man is a son of Toots and brother under the pelt.
Note also what Kushner says about the location of the adventure being anterior to our entrance into it: "We have all known it since before we were conceived," "so do not be confused if sometimes the place seems as real as your house or as illusory as your happiness." He notes that there is the explicit Torah that is written with black letters on white paper. But there is a hole other Torah -- and a vaster one -- in the spaces between the letters. This is again a primary locution of our off-road bewilderness adventure.
Kushner also emphasizes that the ultimate meaning of scripture is that it is your narrative. It is not just about what happened "once upon a time," but what happens every time. Again, as we mentioned yesterday, the only thing that keeps you from realizing it is a failure to take the plunge. If Moses "had your definition of spiritual, he would have remained an Egyptian too. Never entered the wilderness. For you see, we are the stories." If you want your old new self back, you first have to go to the lost & found.
About this bewilderness, the wild godhead -- it is not merely a "place" but "a way of being. A place that demands being open to the flow of life around you.... Your preconceptions cannot protect you. Your logic cannot promise you the future. Your guilt can no longer place you safely in the past." You're on your own, baby! Just like me and Future Leader, except without the pizza.
If you think you know what you will find,
Then you will find nothing.
If you expect nothing,
Then you will always be surprised.
And able to bless the One who creates the world anew each morning --Lawrence Kushner