Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Meaning of It All

Much as I try to hide it, our eagle-eyed troll -- who veritably brims with rudimentary intelligence -- just noticed the other day that I have been influenced by this fellow named Schuon. After quickly googling a paragraph of Schuon, he concluded that his malign influence must account for my stupidity, narrowness of mind, absolutism, opposition to science (sic), rejection of modernity (sic), hostility to reason (sic), and absurd self-confidence.

As I have mentioned before, I am quite certain that Schuon wouldn't have been pleased to be associated with the likes of me, because as much as I regard him as a peerless sage and probable saint, the feeling would not by any means have been mutual (not that it should have been).

To the contrary, even before getting into the questionable content, Schuon would have been appalled at my breezy style of metaphysical comedy -- not to mention my freewheeling jazz age theological improvisations in the manner of unschooled American negro musicians -- which he would have no doubt regarded as vulgar and lacking in sobriety (unaware, of course, that comedy is much more difficult than drama, but we'll let it go).

Also, it is hard to envision Schuon allowing one of these infernal blogging machines into his house, but impossible to imagine him permitting open comments so as to expose the perennial wisdom to the grubby likes of anonymous, who cannot help sullying anything that proceeds from his ghastly piehole. Schuon took seriously the parable of pearls and pigs in a way the blogger cannot.

Like Schuon, I try not to draw attention to myself, but nevertheless, if you put yourself out there in any way, the darkness will find you. I'll bet you anything that Schuon had his share of wackos who pestered him with letters and even showed up at his doorstep. At least by blogging, one can keep the crazies at a safe distance and just ridicule them. And if the trolls insist on coming back, it's their problem, not mine. It certainly can't harm the truth they can't touch anyway. Plus, they are an endless source of good-natured comedy.

As I have mentioned before, I have some fundamental disagreements with Schuon in several key areas, including the value of science, the meaning of modernity, the actual conditions in which most premodern men lived (e.g., illiteracy, famine, plague, oppression, unpleasant rashes, bad smells, et al), the relative utility of psychoanalysis, his placement of metaphysics over revelation, the providential role of the United States, his idealization of American Indian culture (and "primordial culture" in general, what with its psychotic levels of violence, not to mention human sacrifice), and the contributions of people like Teilhard and Aurobindo, who tried to reconcile evolution and Spirit (not to suggest that I fully agree with those two either).

And again, even though I have my disagreements with Schuon, I would never dream of placing myself on the same plane as him. Analogously, even though it is easy enough to disagree with Isaac Newton, it would be absurd to place oneself on his level of genius. A schoolboy can know about the theory of relativity, but that hardly makes him more brilliant than Newton.

I think much of my divergence from Schuon has to do with temperament and with culture. Again, he was a man of extreme sobriety. But also, I can't help thinking that my Americanism has much to do with the differences -- and beneath that, a metaphysic that was essentially Vedantin rather than Christian.

In America we value -- and even hold sacred -- certain things that Schuon would have regarded as peripheral at best, diabolical at worst. And perhaps the most important of these is the value of the unique individual. He often rails against individualism as one of the worst features of modernity. I happen to agree, but it very much depends upon the way one looks at it.

There is no question that the individual self as we know it is a modern phenomenon that only emerged on a widespread scale several hundred years ago (cf. Taylor's magisterial Sources of the Self for every last pedantic detail). Now, the question is, was this a good -- and even providential -- thing, or a kind of going off the rails into error, disorder, rebellion, hedonism, nihilism, and Obamism?

Yes. And no. Another modern development Schuon hated -- psychoanalysis -- explains the difference. This is not the place to go into all of the details, but modern psychoanalysis (which I take to be any version that is rooted in neurodevelopmental attachment theory) converges on the health or pathology of the modern self alluded to above. In short, it is not the self that is to be rejected outright, only pathological versions of it (cf. Dr. Sanity's Encouraging a Culture of Narcissism).

Which leads directly to the next topic discussed in Schall's The Order of Things, the order of mind. For it is only possible to say that a particular self is pathological if the self as such has a function, or a proper end. A self that fails to achieve this end is in a state of pathology, no different than a heart that has no rhythm or a pituitary that won't ptoo.

Now, because of its pervasive flatland materialism, the West tends to collapse all of the orders above biology into one murky mess (indeed, sometimes even reducing it all to biology, as the evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists do).

But in reality, there are several fundamental domains that we must keep separate, including spirit, soul, ego, and mind. Even religion -- especially exoteric religion -- tends to collapse spirit and soul into one entity, which severely limits its explanatory power (similar to how they collapse God and Godhead).

When we talk about the culture war, we are really talking about the irreconcilable differences between theists and nihilists. In the end, you are either one or the other, and if you don't realize it, it is only because you cannot be intellectually honest with yourself and draw out the ultimate implications of your metaphysic. But as we have mentioned in the past, there is a strange convergence of Vedanta and nihilism, since both again devalue the infinite value of the individual, i.e., the soul.

When we say "soul," exactly what are we talking about besides Aretha, Brother Ray, and Al Green? I see it as a sort of "condensation" or "crystalization" that results from the descent and infusion of Spirit into matter (and I believe this would be consistent with the Kabbalistic view, e.g., The Thirteen Petalled Rose). First of all, please note that this involves the descent of a higher dimensional reality into a lower one, so that the lower one can never actually "contain" the higher -- and which is why the light "leaks" from every pore of the illuminated soul.

This is a good place to stop before we get into the purpose of the soul, which converges on the purpose of existence. For one thing a Raccoon believes is that the world is worthy of our being in it, and that we are worthy of having been put here. In short, there is an ultimate purpose to our doing time here in time -- or no purpose at all. In the absence of a transcendent goal, existence is just a fleeting gaol.

25 Comments:

Blogger Sal said...

For those enjoying "The Order of Things" I recommend Schall's "On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs". It's about Slack.

A blessed Triduum and Pasch to all celebrating!

4/01/2010 08:50:00 AM  
Anonymous St. Jerry said...

"unaware, of course, that comedy is much more difficult than drama"

But the trolls make it look easy.
ta-da-post

RR

4/01/2010 08:52:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

I have bought (and then inevitably sold) two different copies of Taylor's "Sources of the Self". I make it about 200 pages in and just get bogged down in the detail.

One book of his I *did* actually finish--mainly because it is a short book-- and is apropos to the question of the pros and cons of modernism/individualism is his "The Ethics of Authenticity".

http://www.amazon.com/Ethics-Authenticity-Charles-Taylor/dp/0674268636/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1270136985&sr=8-1

4/01/2010 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

With all due respect to Schuon sometimes pictures of him seem to be akin to "sam the eagle" from the muppet show.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_t9IR209KBDw/SwxfmlNxBaI/AAAAAAAACMY/b8EcCRkdSV8/s1600/celebrity-pictures-sam-the-eagle-voice-disapproval.jpg

Would it have killed him to smile!?

(I need to learn how to hyperlink)

4/01/2010 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

Photo of Schuon:

http://www.frithjof-schuon.com/FS%2042%20gray_smallest.jpg

4/01/2010 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In this new book about him that I'm reading, it says that he always maintained a rigid posture when he walked, never leaned back when he sat, ate in silence, and only bathed with cold water!

4/01/2010 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous chocolate covered musings of a moron said...

Please note that any theistic line of thought must ultimately conclude the cosmos exists solely for the delight of God.

God, being by definition complete and in need of nothing, has no other conceivable purpose in involuting into matter and then evolving upwards into life, mind, spirit, and then back to Itself.

Knowing this, how is a human being to respond? If we want to align ourselves with God, we must ask ourselves what It wants for Its delight at any given moment.

If we want to resist, we must ask ourselves what purpose it would serve to resist?

It all boils down to delight. All of our pain is a laboriously constructed artifact in danger of melting back into universal delight at any moment.

We are almost "duty bound" to experience pain. It seems like that is what It wants us. Indeed we are It, and It is us.

4/01/2010 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

In America we value -- and even hold sacred -- certain things that Schuon would have regarded as peripheral at best, diabolical at worst. And perhaps the most important of these is the value of the unique individual. He often rails against individualism as one of the worst features of modernity.

It's true. I'm too American. I imbibed independence, individualism, even disdain for authority with my mother's milk. You mentioned Teilhard de Chardin. One of the things he talks about in The Future of Man is the convergence toward unity. Even though he makes a distinction between forced, false unity and true, willing 'evolved' unity, I still find myself cringing as I read it.

4/01/2010 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"For one thing a Raccoon believes is that the world is worthy of our being in it, and that we are worthy of having been put here. In short, there is an ultimate purpose to our doing time here in time -- or no purpose at all."

This sums it all up!

"And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."

I think in terms of "exoteric" religion, I have always been taught these distinctions in the context of self, as spoken by Jesus. And speaking of unity, the preceding teaching is: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." This is a necessary part of the Most Important Commandment. And as revealed through Christ in the NT, *three* in one, unifying those transformed by Him into a Body, each member unique, and uniquely loved by God, yet "like living stones...being built up as a spiritual house."

4/01/2010 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Still, even if the distinction is not within God but within us, I think it's useful to remember the difference between the cataphatic God we can know vs. the apophatic God we can only unKnow.

4/01/2010 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

(Otherwise we can confuse God with our projections, or conflate human forms with the divine essence.)

4/01/2010 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

eating in [group] silence-- also recommended by this similarly amply-schnozzed teacher :

4/01/2010 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"There is no question that the individual self as we know it is a modern phenomenon that only emerged on a widespread scale several hundred years ago (cf. Taylor's magisterial Sources of the Self for every last pedantic detail). Now, the question is, was this a good -- and even providential -- thing, or a kind of going off the rails into error, disorder, rebellion, hedonism, nihilism, and Obamism?"

Gagdad, curious, does Taylor find much, or any, reference to the idea of an 'individual person' prior to Boethius? Does he even peg it to "A" starting source?

4/01/2010 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I forget -- it's been over a decade now. But most people seem to think that Augustine's Confessions was a real turning point, in that he showed a depth of introspection and personal insight that simply hadn't existed prior to that.

4/01/2010 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Jack,
In order to welcome you into the brotherhood of the blue linkers, I can only show you in a way that requires you to replace some symbols (I can't show you it as it is, because the HTML page would automatically hide it and display only a blue link)

Copy this to something like Notepad:

+a href=""-+/a-

, and replace the symbols '+' with a '<', and replace the '-' with a '>' symbol (not using the tick marks of course).

Your web address that you want to link to goes between the quotes, so that portion would be like,

href="http://www.frithjof-schuon.com/FS%2042%20gray_smallest.jpg"

, and the text you want to display as the blue link, goes between (as I'm showing it here as) the

+-,

so if you take this,


+a href="http://www.frithjof-schuon.com/FS%2042%20gray_smallest.jpg"-Eagle Beak+/a-

replace the symbols as mentioned above, then you'd have,

Eagle Beak

displayed as a blue link.

Once you've got the symbols for the hyperlink,

+a href=""-+/a-

replaced, save it as is in notepad, then you can open it up whenever you need it, paste it in your comment, fill in the address and text, and you are then a full member in good standing with the brotherhood of the blue linkers.

4/01/2010 07:00:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Gagdad said "... most people seem to think that Augustine's Confessions was a real turning point"

Yeah I can see that, and he's not that many years prior to Boethius either, seems to have taken to that point in time, basically the 400's, for the concept to 'gell' out of Christianity and into wider thought.

I was actually thinking about this yesterday, and I seem to recall hearing that Boethius was the first to use "Person" in the way that we do now, rather than as a theatrical reference alone.

Interesting, thanks.

4/01/2010 07:14:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

does this work

4/01/2010 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Woo hoo! Thanks Van!

4/01/2010 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Woo-Hoo! Welcome to the Blue Linkers!

4/01/2010 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To ge re: Schnozzed Teacher

I was struck by Aïvanhov’s view of surya-yoga (meditating to the rising sun) which I found very similar to Zoroastrian manthra prayers (towards the sun, flame (eternal flame) or any light). I noticed that your linked article made no mention of Zoroastrianism with regard to similar religious and contemplative practices of the ancients. Oddly, I have found myself beginning each day facing the rising sun. This pattern began after we bought our current house. I don't recite manthras or prayers, but I do reflect and play guitar. I find this time valuable and refreshing. Also, my improvisation skills have improved. The more I look into Zoroastrianism, the more parallels I see in it relative to Christianity. I truly believe the Books of Daniel and Revelations are tightly connected to the Avesta. The historian in me wonders if this was done intentionally to appeal to the Zoroastrians? Don't know, but am noodling it through time. Happy Easter.

4/02/2010 06:24:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That general area was such a hotbed of religion, it's very hard to say who influenced what and vice versa. I have the image of a higher dimensional object entering time, and various traditions catching a piece of it. It's the same with Sufism, which I believe is more Vedanta in Muslim garb.

4/02/2010 06:50:00 AM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re: Central Intrusion of Higher Dimension into Ancient Mid-East - Persia

"That general area was such a hotbed of religion, it's very hard to say who influenced what and vice versa. I have the image of a higher dimensional object entering time, and various traditions catching a piece of it. It's the same with Sufism, which I believe is more Vedanta in Muslim garb."

Zoroaster is estimated to have lived around 550 BC, Daniel and Cyrus around 600 BC. The connective tissue of Persia to Judea through Daniel seems logical since he was entrusted by Cyrus to govern Babylon. At the moment I do not know whether Cyrus incorporated Zoroastrianism as the state religion of Persia or, as was his want, enfolded it like so many other religions into the empire. Needless to say it would be reasonable that Daniel was exposed to Zoroastrianism during this time. (Note: Zoroastrians do not prohibit marrying out of the religion, a true recognition of freedom but a fatal flaw for communicating a culture)

Sufism, the non-thug like form of Islam. I know you are attracted to it because of its Gnostic tradition, but how do you separate it from it's intolerant and deadly majority? Whirling on a dervish on that one. Its not all that apparent to me that Mohammed brought anything new to the worship of God other than attempting to deny man his rightful God-given position of chooser (free choice). Islam in a nutshell by the unimpressed. "You will know me by my deeds".

4/02/2010 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Concur. I don't know how to resolve that one except to say that I recently read a dreadfully depressing history of the Reformation. So much of the Christian world back then behaved as the Islamic world does today. So perhaps it's a matter of time and the civilizing process...

4/02/2010 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"So much of the Christian world back then behaved as the Islamic world does today. So perhaps it's a matter of time and the civilizing process..."

Remember, the Christian church was built on roman bureaucratic hierarchies. When you meld two distinct philosophies/forms, you are bound to retain some of the cruder aspects of the parents. Humans are humans., but nowhere does the Bible teach folks to slaughter unbelievers, it says just the opposite; see The Good Samaritan.

4/02/2010 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes -- Christianity is ultimately self-correcting in a way that Islam can't necessarily be, since jihad is an intrinsic part of it. The only way to overcome that would be to adopt the Sufi ideal of jihad as spiritual warfare with one's own mind parasites. But there will always be people who adopt the literal idea of jihad.

4/02/2010 10:34:00 AM  

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