Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Christianity and the Cosmic Thing

In preparation for this post -- which is by no means prepared -- I thumbed through -- actually, I am now thumbing through -- my copy of Abhishikananda's Life Told Through His Letters. Unfortunately, most of his books are out of print and rather expensive. Anyway, a couple of passages in the foreword caught my attention, both having to do with what we might call "cosmic Christianity," or, as in the title of a post last week, "the cosmic covenant."

Secular fundamentalists struggle with the purported anthropomorphism of Christianity, but if a revelation doesn't in some sense take the form of man, how is man supposed to understand and use it? Conversely, the same people are not at all baffled at how we live in a cosmos that never ceases instructing us through forms accessible to our intellect. This is a great, great mystery, and to say that it goes unnoticed is something of a wonderstatement, as in, why?

Anyway, I find that one of the things Abhishiktananda (heretofore SA, because it takes too long to type) did was situate Christianity in a truly cosmic and even meta-cosmic --more on which later -- context. In order to do this, he occasionally borrowed a word or concept from Vedanta to illuminate a hidden aspect of Christianity.

Imagine a culture that has seven words for snow, while we have only one. Of course we will still have the seven varieties of snow, just not the names. But without the names, we probably won't see them. We will look but not truly apprehend them.

When it comes to Spirit, the important point is obviously to experience it, not necessarily to name it. But names can be of vital importance, especially for mapping, storage, and communication. (I am reminded of something Schuon said of Buddhism, to the effect that it was foolish to call it an atheistic religion, because it clearly has the thing, just not the word.)

SA found the Vedantic concept of akasha helpful, in that it refers to "both the infinite 'exterior' space and the infinite 'interior' space which really are one, both spheres being permeated by that same Spirit which fills not only the whole cosmos but equally the human heart."

Reader Will -- wherever he is -- often reminds us of the concept of the ether, which seems to have been tossed out when physics proved that there was no such thing on physical basis. But no one ever said (or should have said) that it was a property of physics. If anything, physics is a property of it -- which would be why, for example, the cosmos must be nonlocal, both in its interior and exterior, or subjective and objective, modes.

The second passage says that SA's "devotion to the person of Jesus never dimmed." Jesus was his sadguru, which means that he is the "guru of gurus," or the guru who makes guruhood possible.

To put it another way, all gurus are none other than Jesus, most especially the "guru of the heart" which is projected and crystalized in the form of the exterior guru. The purpose of the exterior guru is to allow us to "see" our own guru until such a time as we can identify Him within -- you know, in the Kingdom of Heaven (see Meister Eckhart for details).

A blasfumy point of odor: I'm writing this very rapidly, so I must gloss over many possible heretical (mis)understandings. Suffice it to say that those who are on the right track (or for whom this track is intended) will know what I mean, while those who aren't won't. No one ever said this path was for everyone.

The foreword goes on to say that in later years SA "came to see more vividly that in the Eucharist the entire cosmos is integrated, where both matter and human consciousness are brought together in union through the Spirit of God and the action of Jesus, who manifests God in his fullness."

Again: it is a cosmic religion, both horizontally and, more important, vertically. Indeed, one might say that the historical/horizontal aspect of Christianity derives its significance from the fact that it is a "prolongation" of what is going on vertically, i.e., trinity, love, communion, kenosis, etc. It's not an ether/or situation, but both/and. Or, as I put it in the book, it is earthereal.

To emphasize the horizontal in the absence of the vertical -- as do many "fundamentalists" -- is to indeed reduce Christianity to a worldly instead of cosmic religion. In a letter, SA wrote that "The simple man carves a piece of wood and bows down before it... The intelligent man forms a concept and does the same." Again, we want the thing not just the name.

Regarding that Thing, SA spoke in a letter of how "intellectual and social structures are so overlaid with what in the end is only a moment of history which men unfortunately absolutize." But for SA, the deepest vertical understanding reveals that "Christ is risen!" and "I AM" are "the twofold experience of a single mystery."

No one could suggest that this is in any way extra-Biblical, for "before Abraham was, I AM." This is one part of the Bible that you must take quite literally, that before -- which is to say, vertically anterior -- to everything is I AM THAT I AM," or "I AM HE WHO IS," or just I IS.

Thus, isness is, but not only externally. Rather, being itself is an interior I. And as we will later discuss, there can be no I in the absence of a Thou, as the two co-arise in eternity. "The individual only exists in his being-with" (SA). It is "The Father in relation to the Son -- to me -- to all. The Son in relation to me -- to all. Myself in relation to every conscious being," face-to-face in a sacred space.

You might say that Easter transforms the local me to the cosmic I, or allows it to take part in the I AM. In ether worlds, "The 'I' of the morning of Easter is of another order.... In the Resurrection there arises the spiritual I, of God, of Christ, of myself, of my brothers..."

In another rather ecstatic letter, SA wrote that "The mystery of Christ and of the Father is beyond words, more even than that of the atman.... You can only speak of it in parables, and the meaning of the parable is beyond the words used. No word could ever have given you the experience of the birth of the not-born."

One of SA's most important -- and possibly controversial -- points is that the Jesus mystery was deeply conditioned by the categories of Greek thought, through which it has been "filtered" down, so to speak, to us.

But for SA, "Christ is beyond all concepts." For example, what if he had appeared within the context of Vedantic categories of thought? (In the past, we have discussed how early Chinese Christians interpreted the Logos in terms of the Tao, which quite possibly makes even better nonsense of the reality behind the concept.) Or, more to the point, what if he appeared today (as indeed he must)? What categories of thought would we use to understand the message?

Bottom line: "People argue about Jesus -- it is easier than to let yourself be scorched by contact with him" (SA).

29 Comments:

Blogger JP said...

Bob says:

"No one could suggest that this is in any way extra-Biblical, for "before Abraham was, I AM." This is one part of the Bible that you must take quite literally, that before -- which is to say, vertically anterior -- to everything is I AM THAT I AM," or "I AM HE WHO IS," or just I IS."

Uncreated creating.

Infinite absolute.

O.

I suppose if you are a secular fundamentalist, you don't need to get to that point, because you can simply assume that if you are biggerer and bester than everyone, you don't have to worry about the vertical anterior, because, after all, you are the biggerist and besterist.

Simply ignore the vertical and the problem just goes away, right?

Denial. There's nothing quite as effective when you just want that troublesome O to just go away and leave you alone.

9/14/2010 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It actually is a form of denial. And just as the other kind, what is denied is projected and returns to the projector in a toxic form.

9/14/2010 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Bob says:

"Secular fundamentalists struggle with the purported anthropomorphism of Christianity, but if a revelation doesn't in some sense take the form of man, how is man supposed to understand and use it?"

I think they struggle with Christianity these days because it just doesn't add to economic growth in the predictable manner as saying a book by Richard Dawkins.

You can sit down and calculate the amount that a Dakwins book adds to the GDP. Obviously a net positive.

Christianity just appears to be a value transferance device. The federal government can do that while creating jobs for bureaucrats at the same time!

9/14/2010 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

"The simple man carves a piece of wood and bows down before it... The intelligent man forms a concept and does the same."

Whoa. That was bright. It really is true that it takes an extraordinary person to make visible the obvious.

9/14/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Bob says:

"In the past, we have discussed how early Chinese Christians interpreted the Logos in terms of the Tao, which quite possibly makes even better nonsense of the reality behind the concept."

From Wikipedia:

"In Taoism, Tao both precedes and encompasses the universe. As with other nondualistic philosophies, all the observable objects in the world - referred to in the Tao Te Ching as 'the named' or 'the ten thousand things' - are considered to be manifestations of Tao, and can only operate within the boundaries of Tao. Tao is, by contrast, often referred to as 'the nameless', because neither it nor its principles can ever be adequately expressed in words."

From my point of view, the Tao is the geometric boundary condition of this particular universe (which I again assert can be represented by dual Calabi-Yau manifolds with mirror symmetry (left brain/right brain), whereas I assert there are multiple universes, all with different Taos.

Maybe Van and I can argue about this again.

Yes, Van water exists in this universe. Water implies the specific boundary conditions just as the specific boundary conditions of this universe imply water.

This is actually where Stephen Hawking has recently gone off the rails. He's basically arguing that because we think we can see the Logos/Tao, there is no need for God. Right, Stephen, whatever you say.

And, if you add in fractal thinking with a little dab of Mormon theology, you can imply each human personality has a similar unique geometric configuration.

Now, if you take it one step further and assume that each individual human personaliy implies a counterpart human personality having a geometry that has mirror symmetry, you solve the "one soul, two bodies" issue that Bob talks about from time to time. I think with Sri Aribundo and The Mother, but I could be wrong. I'm too lazy to dig through the archives to find it.

Not, "one soul" as much as "two souls with mirror symmetry, where one could not exist without the other".

I'm also going to add that Vegas has apparently made blacjack pay 6/5 instead of 2/1. I'm thinking about figuring out how to count into a single deck of cards to take advantage of that. What do you think, Van?

Now back to your regularly scheduled non-Van-related commentary.

9/14/2010 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Great post, Bob.

"before Abraham was, I AM." This is one part of the Bible that you must take quite literally.."

This ties nicely with a point Fr Stephen makes in a recent post:

"the Cross also stands outside of time and for all time (the Lamb was slain”before the foundation of the earth”). The Cross was always the way of life. Love, self-emptying love, was always the love of God for all mankind – though until He made it manifest in the Cross of Christ we did not know it."

I never quite thought of the Two like this before. The self-emptying love from Christ was "before" and the same as God's self-emptying love that created the Cosmos.

Could you say God suffered or even died a little making the Cosmos? ...because He loved us so..?

9/14/2010 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

err...! (white noise...Test Pattern appears)
Please pardon the OT ref, but I'd like to make a request of my fellow Raccoons; after the latest Blogger template slaughtered my 9/11 pics, I decided to tweak my own... but I've no idea how it looks on other browsers. If you could pop over and let me know if breaks on yours, and if so what you're using, I'd appreciate it.

Thanks.
(I now return you to O's regularly scheduled program)

9/14/2010 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Looks good now, Van. You're right, it was wonky on your 9/11 post.

9/14/2010 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

...there can be no I in the absence of a Thou, as the two co-arise in eternity. "The individual only exists in his being-with" (SA). It is "The Father in relation to the Son -- to me -- to all. The Son in relation to me -- to all. Myself in relation to every conscious being," face-to-face in a sacred space.

Oui.

9/14/2010 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"But without the names, we probably won't see them. We will look but not truly apprehend them. "

'Apprehend' being the keyword - we will 'see' the different sorts of snow, but having no convenient way of taking note and registering that we took note of it, and no urgent need to, it's allowed to just slip away without conscious differentiation and apprehension.

Just like a botanist might glance out the window on a cross country trip and see multiple varieties and unusual variations of pines, oaks, populars, beeches, etc... maybe even take note of different shadings and possible diseases in them... while the city dweller glances out and sees "Trees. Lots of green trees. Are we there yet?"

9/14/2010 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Thanks Ricky.

9/14/2010 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Can't help it.

wv: ovelers.

(Like revelers but, you know. Oh, and... revelers, too. Maybe even reve[a]lers.)

9/14/2010 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

In a letter, SA wrote that "The simple man carves a piece of wood and bows down before it... The intelligent man forms a concept and does the same." Again, we want the thing not just the name.

Thou shalt not take the Name of the LORD thy God in vain.

Or, avoid vain repetitions.

9/14/2010 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Btw, book rec. I'm not sure if it has already been mentioned here, though, so pardon if this is a repeat. It is a sort of new book (Jan. 2010) by Thomas Sowell -- Intellectuals and Society. Highly recommend! Excellent.

Jonah Goldberg is quoted on the back cover (I think?) as saying it will be an "instant classic".

He says, “This is truly an instant classic.” (I looked up the quote.)

9/14/2010 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Correction upon checking my copy of the book and not finding the quote. The Jonah Goldberg quote is on Thomas Sowell's website page for the book, the top quote.

wv: pressev

9/14/2010 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

By the way, on that apprehending point... one of the things I really like about OC, is how the different 'coon's will differentiate and apprehend something which I might only glanced out and said "Lots of green trees. We there yet?", but with their comment, suddenly a space has been hollowed out in my attention and the fauna & flora rushes into fill it.

Truly a place for ovelers and overlering!

9/14/2010 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Anna,

Yep, big thumbs up on Sowell "Intellectuals and Society", and I'm pretty sure Gagdad did a few posts on it shortly after it came out.

9/14/2010 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob,

I know you often use advaita vendanta as a basis to complement Christianity, but you may want to look at Kashmir Shaivism a little more. Kashmir Shaivism is a hindu-based teaching, but unlike adviata, it does not see the world as an illusion. Instead, much like Christianity, it infuses the idea that spirit must act in the world. The divine and humane are interconnected to transform the individual and serve the world. To learn more, here is a book I recommend: http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Sadhana-Special-Reference-Kashmir/dp/0791403483/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2S2YFUB3NUAIL&colid=69NDXY4953FS.

Best,
T

9/14/2010 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Van -

I thought that was probably the case.

The book is like a well-cut diamond.

9/14/2010 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

One of SA's most important -- and possibly controversial -- points is that the Jesus mystery was deeply conditioned by the categories of Greek thought, through which it has been "filtered" down, so to speak, to us.

That shouldn't be controversial. It makes perfect sense.

Paul was apparently a brilliant scholar, both in the Talmudic tradition and of Greek philosophy. You get just a little glimpse of what he was so good at in Acts 17 with his Areopagus dissertation in Athens. Paul is translating the revelation he had received to the Roman Empire but to people with a decidedly Greek worldview. Because his writings weigh so heavily in the NT, we have a "Greek" NT theology. You get a sense of the difference when reading the Gospels recording the direct words of Jesus -- which are often more than a little disturbing.

The same is true to a greater or lesser extent with most of the NT canon, because the Jews had long been "Hellenized" to one degree or another, and their witness, outside of Judea, began to be mostly to the Greek-influenced.

9/14/2010 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Van,
while the city dweller glances out and sees "Trees. Lots of green trees. Are we there yet?"

When I was in my first college, I took a creative writing class with a professor who related the story of a former student. When assigned to write an essay describing a tree, this student apparently came up with something that was the verbal equivalent of a child's drawing - essentially a big blob of green on a popsicle stick. Apparently she had never looked closely enough at a tree to notice little things like leaves and branches. Yikes.

9/14/2010 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Anon:

I'm a Ramanuja man myself, over Shankara. Lines up much better with Christianity.

9/14/2010 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

the verbal equivalent of a child's drawing - essentially a big blob of green on a popsicle stick

Wow, your professor had Maya Angelou in his class? We're not worthy.

I hate to pick on Angelou, but in our local library there is a bronze inlay in the entry floor, like a long ribbon. The names of authors are written therein -- ... Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, James, Joyce, Miller ... Angelou ... WTF

9/14/2010 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, James, Joyce, Kerouac, Miller...

JK same # of letters as MA

9/14/2010 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I tried to like Kerouac but I kept hearing this lisping little froggy voice saying, "That's not writing; that's typing."

9/14/2010 07:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Alpha male said...

The good thing about your information is that it is explicit enough for students to grasp. Thanks for your efforts in spreading academic knowledge.

9/14/2010 11:03:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Mush:
then you deserve Angelou!
& can have the 'true man'...Actually
the piece i'd most like to read of TC was never published, his story based on malcolm lowry, who was a great writer tambien {UNDER THE VOLCANO]
Kerouac raved re that novel to Cassady in a letter

PS: Check out H Miller's intro to THE DHARMA BUMS for a great writer's take on another's work

9/15/2010 04:08:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9/15/2010 06:07:00 AM  
Blogger Sal said...

Another take, from the Chinese direction:
http://yimcatholic.blogspot.com/2010/09/for-witness-of-dom-lou-tseng-tsiang.html#more

My task for October: learning to link

9/15/2010 06:41:00 AM  

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