Monday, October 18, 2010

Healing the Sick, Raising the Dead, and Flattering the Self

This is good to know, and not just because it's convenient and self-serving: that is to say, "there are ascetical and disciplinary measures that make no sense except for passional men given to ambition and vanity, not to say pride, and therefore disqualified for gnosis" anyway (Schuon).

What this means is that the full-blooded Raccoon -- to the extent that he actually is one -- needn't concern himself with all those spiritual techniques aimed at eliminating the ego with extreme prejudice, since his being is already pretty much in conformity with his highest aspiration. Just as, for the Raccoon, having to go to school interfered with his education, conventional religiosity may hinder his spiritual development.

Or, put it this way. Most Americans are now officially overweight. They eat too much and exercise too little because they lack self-discipline. Therefore, the many thousands of studies, diets, books, and Oprah programs dealing with this issue have no relevance to those of us who are already disciplined and fit.

It reminds me of diabetes, which is now a pandemic in the developed world. When there isn't enough food -- and there is plenty of physical labor -- people needn't worry about disciplining their appetite. But the plague of type II diabetes simply reveals the fact that most people have no control over their mouth and no discipline over their body.

I have adult onset type I, which is a different beast entirely, unrelated to lifestyle. However, it does require the same degree of self-discipline to control. I can't eat so much as half a pretzel without being conscious of the immediate effect on my blood sugar. But I have evaluated hundreds of type II diabetics, and thus far I haven't encountered a single one who exerts the level of self-discipline I would consider acceptable. And it's not just because I have "high standards," unless you call wanting to avoid blindness, stroke, cognitive decline, impotence and amputation an unreasonable standard.

I don't mean to rag on these people. The point is, they are average, just as the man in need of serious spiritual self-discipline is average. I recall another wise crack by Schuon, to the effect that the superior man dominates himself, and loves doing so. He doesn't have to be whipped into submission to properly order his soul and his life. Rather, it just comes supernaturally naturally.

Elsewhere Schuon wrote that "the world is miserable because men live beneath themselves." The fundamental -- and inexcusable, for it is diabolical in its effect -- error of every variety of liberalism, is that it pretends it can "reform the world without having either the will or the power to reform man." It only results in the absurdity of attempting "to make a better world on the basis of a worsened humanity."

Followed to its conclusion, secular leftism inverts the cosmos, ending "in the abolition of what is human, and consequently in the abolition of happiness too." For genuine improvement, man requires re-ligio, or an authentic and efficacious means of binding him to his source and destiny.

Having said that, it is obviously quite easy to deceive oneself in these matters, unless one understands that the burden is heavier, not lighter, for the self-disciplined. Or at least the responsibilities.

For example, if you are at the base camp of the mountain and something goes wrong, it's not going to be fatal. But if you are up there scaling a rock wall at 8,000 feet, you have to be very cautious, because errors will be magnified there.

This is one of the reasons why I have no patience with, or tolerance for, all of those self-styled new age spiritual teachers, as the great majority of them are no more advanced than their followers, only clever -- or sociopathic -- enough to make a career out of it. But suffice it to say, no person of genuine spiritual attainment makes a business out of it. Indeed, it is a kind of proof that the attainment is bogus. The spiritual life is its own reward -- that and the joy of passing it along to others.

In a more spiritually balanced world, all of the above would qualify as truism. But again, as we were saying last Friday, the Christian West emphasizes the penitential path, not the path of knowledge or metaphysics. In this regard, Schuon makes a subtle but crucial point, that "the great question that arises is knowing whether metaphysical ideas act on the will of a given man or whether on the contrary they remain inoperative abstractions" (emphasis mine).

As I am always at pains to emphasize, nothing I write about can be of any use if it is just "knowledge" (k) that is not realized (n). Unrealized spiritual knowledge is less than worthless, because it can be so deceptive. Not only must this knowledge be realized, but, if properly expressed, it should facilitate its own realization, or mysteriously actualize what it signifies. It should, according to Schuon, "unleash interiorizing and ascending acts of the will and affective dispositions of the same order."

If this takes place -- and only if it takes place -- then "there is no need to seek to create a distaste in the person in question for a world that already hardly attracts him or for an ego that already has no more illusions or ambitions." You can't kill what is already dead, so "it is pointless to impose attitudes on the 'pneumatic' that are meaningless for him and that instead of humbling him in a salutary fashion can only bore and distract him."

Naturally, we are speaking of degrees, not absolutes. But at least in my case, no one has to convince me to lead a quasi-monastic life focused on spiritual interiorization. However, please note that the form without the content would be a kind of perversion.

For example, there are numberless tenured drones who perhaps have the monastic temperament, but use it to obsess over some tiny, irrelevant corner of the cosmos. In my case, I have a passion for the eternal, which animates everything I do. To the extent that I discuss some small corner of existence, it is only in the context of how it bears upon the eternal. We're always talking about the divinization and sanctification of the cosmos, or cosmotheosis. This, we hope, is what distinguishes us from the acadanemic and infertile eggheads of the tenured henhouse.

I should also hope that it goes without saying that "intelligence" is not at issue. There are plenty of brilliant people who spend their lives propagating error, and plenty of average ones who live a truth that is much higher and deeper than themselves. Prior to intelligence -- for intelligence alone cannot know of it -- is "a sense of the sacred," and "all the moral and intellectual consequences it implies." For a sacred world demands a kind of knowledge in conformity with it. And it excludes systematic knowledge that is unaware of the sanctity of the world and of man.

In order to have a sense of the supernatural, one must either be above nature, or the supramundane must infuse nature with its presence. Same difference, which is none.

33 Comments:

Blogger JP said...

Bob says:

"But I have evaluated hundreds of type II diabetics, and thus far I haven't encountered a single one who exerts the level of self-discipline I would consider acceptable. And it's not just because I have "high standards," unless you call wanting to avoid blindness, stroke, cognitive decline, impotence and amputation an unreasonable standard."

The entire Type II "crisis" is fascinating, isn't it?

10/18/2010 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, and the cost to the medical system is -- and will be -- staggering. Under the best of circumstances, it's a very expensive disease.

10/18/2010 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

It's also baffling, to me at least, inasmuch as I know that if I fail to take care of myself it is extremely likely that will be my fate. Remembering grandma with two prosthetic legs is really all the motivation I need to be serious about taking care of myself. I can't imagine not heeding those warnings.

Going back to this:

What this means is that the full-blooded Raccoon -- to the extent that he actually is one -- needn't concern himself with all those spiritual techniques aimed at eliminating the ego with extreme prejudice, since his being is already pretty much in conformity with his highest aspiration.

Put another way, if you only know the truth but don't love it and strive to live it, you've missed the point entirely. If you know you'll be seriously unhealthy if you don't take care of yourself, but then fail to do anything to take care of yourself, what's the use of having that knowledge?

If this takes place -- and only if it takes place -- then "there is no need to seek to create a distaste in the person in question for a world that already hardly attracts him or for an ego that already has no more illusions or ambitions."

Or again, put another way, when Christ told the rich guy to sell all his worldly possessions and give the money to the poor in order to be perfect, the point of the exercise was not that possessions or money are bad. If that were the case, giving money to the poor would be just as bad for the poor as they were for the guy who had them first. The problem was that the guy valued his stuff more than he valued his soul. To a person who already has his priorities in order, the exercise is pretty much moot.

10/18/2010 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Elsewhere Schuon wrote that "the world is miserable because men live beneath themselves." The fundamental -- and inexcusable, for it is diabolical in its effect -- error of every variety of liberalism, is that it pretends it can "reform the world without having either the will or the power to reform man." It only results in the absurdity of attempting "to make a better world on the basis of a worsened humanity.""

Bingo.

10/18/2010 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Followed to its conclusion, secular leftism inverts the cosmos, ending "in the abolition of what is human, and consequently in the abolition of happiness too."

And the way it typically does that is the standard leftie procedure of redefining the problem out of existence. Rather than worry about the classical meaning and concerns of Happiness, it simply reterms it 'happy' – problem solved – ‘if anyone isn’t ‘happy’ give ‘em stuff to make ‘em happy!’ as a parent has found that one of our finer school districts in MO has done,

"While in Clayton School District, she learned that the General Welfare clause of the Constitution is synonymous with "being happy" - i.e. that Congress being able to provide for the general welfare means that Congress should provide for everyone being happy and living a comfortable life."
arghhhhh

10/18/2010 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

This is one of the reasons why I have no patience with, or tolerance for, all of those self-styled new age spiritual teachers, as the great majority of them are no more advanced than their followers, only clever -- or sociopathic -- enough to make a career out of it.

Dr. Sanity touches on a similar point:

"In fact, I would contend that pop psychology has risen in parallel and prominence along with the entire political correctness thing; giving all that leftist PC dogma bullshit a shiny pseudo-scientific patina.

For years now, pop psychology and its gurus have mesmerized the culture at large. All their self-help tenets have percolated through K-12 educational curricula; and been accepted wholeheartedly by the cultural elite of Hollywood and the intellectual elite of academia.

The triumvarate of contradictions that claims to be based on "scientific" psychology includes the hyping of (1) self-esteem (increasing your self-worth without having to achieve anything; (2) hope (achieving your goals without any real effort) and (3) victimhood (it's not your fault that you haven't achieved anything or made any effort)."

10/18/2010 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

That being the case, even if you're staying close to base camp, there's no reason some assoul won't lead you to plummet straight into a chasm...

10/18/2010 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I'm not entirely comfortable with this post. I'll read it again tonight. It's probably just me.

10/18/2010 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Rick, maybe another way to see it:

When everything is yoga (or, if you prefer, when your whole life is your spiritual practice), special techniques become sort of moot. Everything is an opportunity to experience the sacred. Every act, every chore, every joy and every frustration can be a meditation and a chance to conform the self with truth. When one both knows and lives this way, special techniques or schools or forms aren't really necessary.

You don't have to join a monastery to live a monastic life, nor isolate oneself from the world in order to be a hermit. The cave of the heart can be found in the midst of crowds, and not just on a mountainside.

I don't know if that helps, but that's how it seems to me.

10/18/2010 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...the Christian West emphasizes the penitential path, not the path of knowledge or metaphysics.

My first response was that I'm not going to get far down the metaphysical path without sanctification. Then I realized you didn't say "the sanctification path". I saw penance and thought holiness.

10/18/2010 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Schmemann [emphasis mine]:

In our perspective, however, the "original" sin is not primarily that man has "disobeyed" God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him and for Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God. The sin was not that man neglected his religious duties. The sin was that he thought of God in terms of religion, i.e., opposing him to life. The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world. The fall is not that he preferred the world to God, distorted the balance between the spiritual and material, but that he made the world material, whereas he was to have transformed it into "life in God," filled with meaning and spirit.

10/18/2010 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

The Christian mystics who taught me when I was young, talked about the necessity of a sacrifice that was alive and healthy, that had to be tied to the altar with rope.

That certainly seems more admirable, but I find that things that would have hurt to sacrifice, eventually become trash that I quietly carry out of the house. Literally or figuratively.

10/18/2010 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Aloysius said...

Well I doubt I have the required level of self discipline (yet) but some months ago I was diagnosed as diabetic-- H1AC = 7.2.

The doctor said that I should commence diabetes medication. I said no. about 4 months later I was 45 pounds lighter and my H1AC was 5.6. Now I am 60 pounds lighter but don't have a recent H1AC reading.

Many have asked me what I did. The answer is eat less and exercise more -- and pray. Now I am at a satisfactory weight and have 15% body fat and am trying to find the right balance in life that allows me to enjoy (as the rabbis said) everything that is legitimate while not destroying my body.

I know this that God has been my partner in the endeavor and there has been an increase in spiritual intuition.

But I clearly understand how I got that way and how many others do too. It is more insidious than alcoholism. But I remember the scripture that says we will be condemned by our own condemnation of others so I will work on securing my new lifestyle.

10/18/2010 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

With all due respect (and I have a great deal as you know) these are my bugging me parts. They are probably off base or off topic or just plain my fault.

I mean, these are just small quotes, but I don’t know about what Schuon says here, “there are ascetical and disciplinary measures that make no sense except for passional men given to ambition and vanity”. (BTW, some examples by Schuon may have been helpful.)

Anyway, we have already said we don’t agree with everything Schuon says, and other clearly higher, more experienced souls. UF comes to mind. And as I suspected, I’m beginning to agree more with UF on the parts I once didn’t like as time goes on.

Back to the quote above, I’m reminded of a few things I heard, such as the things done in secret by St Thomas and his hair shirt (I believe it was him) and Pope JP II sleeping on the ground. Passional men… or did they know something we can’t know. Same with the monastic and the monk are two separate things. I can think I know what it’s like to be a monk, but signing up is something I can only imagine doing.

10/18/2010 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Then this quote “it is pointless to impose attitudes on the 'pneumatic' that are meaningless for him and that instead of humbling him in a salutary fashion can only bore and distract him.” Bob qualifies it earlier with “there is no need to seek to create a distaste in the person in question for a world that already hardly attracts him or for an ego that already has no more illusions or ambitions.”
The so-called “attitude” is vague but it almost seems to be a comment on tradition. Yet, that can't be, can it? Considering this is Schuon, after all. Or is it a comment on the parts one doesn’t like. Or the ones you may be doing wrong. Or, in other words, they may be meaningless because you thought they were supposed to do X but really there is Y to gain or lose also.

10/18/2010 05:15:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I don't know, maybe I'm in a weird mood. Or for once not in one. But it seems as if Schuon is letting someone off the hook, for something, and I don't think anyone is off the hook.

10/18/2010 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

Discipline has such a mixed connotation these days, as does 'disciple.'  What a pity that is.  Think of all that human potential for work, problem solving, and creativity, rusting in a decorated shed.  Even to praise self-control, or mention virtue, is to sound at best antique and at worst 'repressed.'  

More's the pity, because only with discipline can you stick with something long enough to master it completely, be able to then wield it skillfully as a power, and so act without all the inhibitions of the clumsy, ignorant, undisciplined self.  Sure, both are 'you', but how much clearer and more expressive is the one shaped by self-control.

10/18/2010 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

I think we are talking temperament rather than gradient, Rick. It is not necessarily so that we all pass through the same stages, or at least not at a fixed speed that is only modified by our piety.

I have a brother who has been saintly from before he could walk. Me, I was a murderer waiting to happen for my first couple decades. Does God play favorites? Or did my brother undergo an awesome discipline as a baby? Was it I or my parents who sinned, since I was born spiritually blind? Or did it happen so that God's glory could be revealed at a later time?

Temperaments exist. However, they are not earned, certainly not if we look at a single lifetime, which I very strongly recommend we do.

10/18/2010 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Thanks Magnus.
I'm just not certain the point of all religious discipline, or what one may think is a discipline but may not necessarily be only that, has instead some other purpose than just to make one a better person. They may serve to bring one closer to God, say, and that is all, and the rest takes care of itself.

10/18/2010 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Back to the quote above, I’m reminded of a few things I heard, such as the things done in secret by St Thomas and his hair shirt (I believe it was him) and Pope JP II sleeping on the ground. Passional men… or did they know something we can’t know.
***
But it seems as if Schuon is letting someone off the hook, for something, and I don't think anyone is off the hook.


How about this example, which I almost posted earlier but wasn't sure if I was touching on a similar topic:

No matter what it is one is trying to accomplish, of course there are necessary starting points, and skills and disciplines one must acquire somehow to learn how to conform oneself to that which one would become. But at some point, techniques and systems must give way to reality; they may point to it, they may help one to get there, but they are not the end.

Going back to Bob's climber, of course somehow he had to learn basic and advanced skills before he could tackle that 8000 foot cliff face, not to mention building the requisite strength and stamina. The how of it is not so important as the fact that it is learned and internalized until the climb is as natural as walking. Once he starts up, what is important is that he knows and has mastered his own weaknesses, and that he has a keen grasp of the reality of the cliff face. Odds are, it will require flexibility of both mind and body, such that rigid adherence to technique or ritual could even be dangerously counterproductive.

The climber isn't "let off the hook" if he does things in the way best suited to his own abilities. If anything, he must be far more disciplined than someone following an established way.

***

As to the purpose being to make one a better person, that is often a side effect but it shouldn't be the goal. As you say, the point is - or should be - to bring one closer to God.

10/18/2010 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

This is starting sound a little like Romans 14 and 15. There are weaker brothers and stronger brothers. The strong ought to bear with the asceticism of the weak and not offend them. The weaker ought to understand that what is wrong for one is not necessarily wrong for others -- not in absolute moral terms but in terms of spiritual discipline.

Then there are, as one preacher put it, the "professional" weaker brothers who are all about control, and, I suppose, there are probably "professional" stronger brothers, as well.

10/18/2010 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Thank you, Mushroom - I just read about that somewhere recently, too. Says it much better than I just did :)

10/18/2010 06:45:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Thanks Julie.

10/18/2010 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I hope I was helpful. To be honest, it helps me just as much; your questions stuck with me today. So thank you, too.

10/18/2010 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"I recall another wise crack by Schuon, to the effect that the superior man dominates himself, and loves doing so. He doesn't have to be whipped into submission to properly order his soul and his life. Rather, it just comes supernaturally naturally."

There is something to be said for about the value of bein' whipped into submission, although the whuppin' must be embraced with the right attitude, and the whuppin' is only as valuable as a catalyst that spurs one in the right direction in all aspects.

That's not to say that God is the one who cracks the whip, but He can use the pain, tragedy, and brokeness the whip causes to pour His grace upon a willing whipee, if the whipee chooses to use it as a launching point, turning the chaos into order, the ugliness into beauty, the badness to goodness, etc..

And thus going where he may not have ever gotten to had the whip not been cracked, be it bad luck, someone else's choices or even your own that caused it to happen.

I'm addressing more of the journey to be-come the superior man rather than the already attained superior man Schuon speaks of.

That bein' said, the journey doesn't end there, and one should never stop their journey and settle down to wait for another whuppin' that may or may not come.
And I would caution humbleness...lots of humbleness, but never accompanied by a faux piousness.

I don't know that I could ever see myself as a superior man even if I got to that point (a point that is always movin' towards Truth n' Love), but perhaps I'm letting my emotions (and mind parasites) get in the way.

Certainly, on a horizontal level, I see those patriots (good samaritans) that love life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as superior to leftists, anarchists, proregressves, and whateverists (thieves) that strive to enslave us (and themselves), steal our propertyy and destroy any real progress on any level by force.
That purty much goes without sayin'.

Great post, Bob! Very thought provoking.
Including the comments today. :^)

10/18/2010 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Paul also says that all things are lawful, but not all things edify. He's letting a whole bunch of people "off the hook" in that statement.

But perhaps a better question would be found in asking about the nature of the "hook."

Meanwhile, discipline yields a peace and freedom, almost as a Sacrament is an outward sign pointing to an inward Grace. A Sacrament can be considered a discipline of faith that opens up the heart to receive the fuller understanding and infilling of what that discipline is pointing toward.

10/18/2010 08:41:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

Well, you raccoon are not off the hook yet. Most of you are egotists. Even you, Bob. You've got it half-licked. Keep at it.

And I'm not just puffing here. Most of you are not to the stage where you do not need coercion or an attitude adjustment. Not nearly.

Rick is uncomfortable because he knows this too but is too polite to say it.

There are a few here, and I'm not saying who, that are rising above ego to some acceptable range. And that doesn't include Julie.

Now I'm getting back to sitting on the couch with a tube of raw chocolate chip cookie dough, in my pajamas (just the top). And I think that's where I'll stay all day tommorrow.

Yummy.

10/18/2010 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

B-ho:

You know, that tube of raw chocolate chip cookie dough in yer pj's ain't gonna fool no one, even if it is just the top of the tube.

10/19/2010 01:46:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Yes, Joan, the sacraments is a better example. Thank you. Communion with God is not to punish.
And as Ben uses "humble". Maybe that is how Schuon's quotes come across in one way. As not sounding humble, that is. By off the hook I mean, there will always be distance between a person and God. There is no "reached" or summiting in a way.
And just to be clear, I'm not proposing the wearing of hair shirts :-) by all. Only recognizing that mystery I know nothing about. St Thomas felt it was not beneath him. Unless by it a person can say there is a kind of hair shirt for everyone; always a better station beyond the one you are at.

10/19/2010 04:02:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

One final incomplete thought before heading to the salt mine.

Obviously there is not a small discipline aspect to fasting. But when we are talking about the vertical aspects, shouldn't there be also a deeper purpose. As in, that maybe the discipline is the milk of the act and then the solid food when one is ready.

Or this...I want to say that certain aspects of fasting may be in the same category as Pope JP II sleeping on the floor beside his bed when no one knew; I want to say that maybe fasting is more a kin to an act of charity at that point. In other words, it may be something the Pope did "for the world". Such as when
Fr. Lazarus
prays, he prays for the world.

Anyway, I'm the last person to say anything about fasting, I mean, the religious kind. It's just an example..

10/19/2010 05:43:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

I am not sure I understand the difference between becoming a better person and getting closer to God. The main reason I know for sure that I am still far from God is the Bible verse that says that those who sin have not seen nor known God. Since I still fall in some temptations sometimes, I know that I still only know God by hearsay (although the hearsay is "in my head" these days, or in my soul.) Conversely, I assumed that those who don't sin have in fact known God. It is hard to imagine where else they would get their goodness from, if it is genuine: After all, there is none good but One.

10/19/2010 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Magnus,
I think what I was getting at is that it may possible to "do no one harm" but also not be close to (in terms of spending time with or in the presence of) God. I see your point and I agree with it. But that is because you know the source of good and are thankful for it, as I am. So what I'm saying is it is possible to not know this, but worse, to not love God in return; which I think is nonetheless a rejection of God (however severe).

10/19/2010 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Magnus,
This was a recent Fr. Stephen post that touches on what I was getting at. I think. The "better person" notion has been popping up a lot lately in my noggin so it's hard to tell where it started on me. Anyway, it's still a work in progress for me. Someday I hope to get to the bottom of it.

10/19/2010 03:37:00 PM  

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