Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Builders Rejected by the Stoner in Chief

I didn't intend to spark a controversy with yesterday's post, not even a trivial one. The main point is that, say, communion (or any other group service) takes only a few minutes. What about the rest of the week? What shall be the focus of your spiritual life and activity, since you only have one soul and one life?

As for the extreme ascetical and penitential practices of Pope John Paul II, any pope is in a unique position, representing a billion souls in particular, and mankind in general, before God, and conversely, God before man. Who knows what kind of insopherable energy flows in both directions through that focal point of cosmosis?

Whatever it is, it is intense. But if no one but the president can really know what it's like to be president, this is even more true of the papacy. Part of being Pope involves no longer being the man, but the office, and all it implies.

It is, of course, analogous to Jesus, in which both the divine and human natures are copresent. But I'm guessing that the Pope has a much different (and unsettling) appreciation of the general human nature, similar to how the guru takes on the karma of the disciple.

Just a guess. But as a psychologist, I can tell you that it can be an overwhelming burden to have a single patient with primitive, borderline issues. It is impossible to imagine having millions upon millions of them. Or, imagine having a dozen ex-wives. Who can really know such torture but Larry King?

Since we live in a spiritually hostile world in which the aliens have taken over, it requires an act of conscious will to think properly. In other words, if one abandons oneself to the general intellectual ambience, there is virtually no chance of undeviated thinking. For obvious reasons, the situation is only worse for the tenured and for those who succumb to their influence.

In a way, the Pope is at a distinct advantage here, since he gets to live in the intensely sacred ambience of the Vatican, where one can hardly open one's eyes without being lifted by the vertical energies. Everything there points up, whereas in the world of the secular west, so much tends to point down. Thus for the rest of us, we must create our own interior cathedral, so to speak, or at least "recall" the archetype from which the physical one takes its measure.

This interior cathedral is where the soul finds its rest. Schuon speaks of "the humble serenity of pure intellection, humble because impersonal and serene because conforming to That which is."

Note that the impersonality assures, or at least promotes, the humility. For example, if I am saying something "new," not only is the focus inappropriately placed upon me, but I am probably wrong to boot: error squared. Intelligence without humility inevitably betrays itself, whereas humility is a kind of deep existential intelligence, if only the vivid awareness that one is not God (and dependent upon God for right thinking).

It is difficult to express it more clearly than this: "God requires from each man what each man can and must give; but from the intelligent man He also requires intelligence in the service of truth, for which it is made and through which it lives" (Schuon). And if one's intelligence is strictly in the service of truth, this is a kind of intellectual karma yoga, since one must constantly "forget the self" in order to be in conformity with the truth that transcends it.

And how can the ego get puffed up with pride, when there is no question of the ego inventing or possessing this truth? Of course it happens, but the moment it does, error has effaced the truth and introduces a kind of passional toxicity.

One intuits this in the case of all of those self-styled spiritual teachers who cannot but help promulgating deviant doctrines to their followers, since there is only one doctrine equally available to everyone, albeit in different modes for different spiritual types. Thus, the more necessary these teachers imagine themselves to be, the more unnecessary they actually are.

Schuon discusses the various spiritual types, which are classically divided into ruler, priest, sage, warrior, merchant, laborer and outcaste. Each can be sanctified in its own way save for the latter, which can only be saved.

Consider Schuon's description of the merchant caste, which includes the craftsman and farmer: there is a "love of work well done -- both the result and the performance -- and of wages honestly earned; an emotional accent on the fear of God and on meritorious works conscientiously and piously accomplished."

Please note that he is not being the least bit condescending. Imagine, for example, if American capitalism were dominated by this mentality -- which it actually is, far more than people realize. Indeed, this is why it "works," because of the American "civil religion" so accurately described by de Tocqueville.

My father was of this caste -- a very pure businessman. In this regard, it is impossible for me to imagine him engaging in any kind of unethical or dishonest business dealing, even though he was in no way conventionally religious. Nevertheless, one can see how his work was a kind of karma yoga, since it was always "elevating." And people loved doing business with him for it. Is living the truth not a kind of implicit knowing it? Or is it actually explicit?

Schuon goes on to say that such individuals can appear superficially "horizontal" and conventional, but there is nothing wrong with being conventional in a just and rightly ordered society. Indeed, it can be "a protection against the lack of a sense of proportion for those not sufficiently endowed with discernment."

For example, consider an Obama, who clearly imagines himself to be of the priestly/intellectual caste, but who is so lacking in humility -- not to mention discernment and conformity to the real -- that he falls far lower than any upstanding merchant in the Chamber of Commerce. It is no coincidence that he so contemptuously attacks the latter, just as he belittles all normal Americans and the civil religion that has served us so well.

We don't hate Obama. But he sure despises us. Intellectually speaking, the most meagerly endowed tea-partier knows more about America than Obama and his doubtcaste rabble of unrepentant dementors. And the former is certainly more spiritual, at least in the positive sense of the word.

Reminds me of that biblical story of how the productive builders were rejected by the stoner in chief...

27 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Ha - wv today is "suffer"

Anyway, I'm glad this example came up, because it reminded me of one other point I thought of yesterday, then I'll quit belowviating because I'm probably just muddying the waters.

Consider Schuon's description of the merchant caste, which includes the craftsman and farmer: there is a "love of work well done -- both the result and the performance -- and of wages honestly earned; an emotional accent on the fear of God and on meritorious works conscientiously and piously accomplished."

I didn't take any of yesterday's points to mean that there was never a value or purpose to ascesis, nor that it made someone a better or higher person if that wasn't their calling. Rather, my thought was that if the cosmos is sacred, there must be a way for everyone to touch into that, at least a little bit, by being true to their own nature. Ordinary people can be holy, even though the ordinary life doesn't generally leave much room for ascesis. What parent of young children can spend hours meditating or fasting, when there is work to be done? Aren't the long nights of interrupted sleep in the service of love just as important? Hair shirts and most modern jobs don't go so well together either (although The Anchoress has a good way of doing it, if that's your calling). Flagellation and mortification may result in committal. It's not that there is no discipline, it's that if you're living as you are called then life is discipline. For instance, the alcoholic is called not to drink, the diabetic to monitor his diet and check his blood sugar regularly (which involves pricking the skin to draw blood several times a day), the chronically angry are called to control themselves, etc. Everybody has something they must do that could be seen as onerous and penitential, an ascesis; not everyone feels that way about it though. Should they then seek out something more, or simply do what they must and be glad?

Also, while I think ascesis can have its place and be helpful, I'm reminded of UF's notes on systems designed to create a spiritual experience, that they can become a sort of idolatry.

Maybe the point is that there is no "one size fits all" spirituality. Everybody is called to serve in their way, and every way, if it is the Way, will have its disciplines, its struggles, etc. Nobody gets off the hook if they're really doing what they ought.

10/19/2010 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Or put another way - St. Thomas wore a hair shirt, and the pope slept on the floor. If we do those things because they did will that make us as holy as them? Of course not. It isn't the ascesis that makes the saint. They had their reasons for doing as they did, particular to their circumstances. We cannot take on that mantle, we can only assume our own as best we can.

10/19/2010 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Agreed. Of course at some point we may be pointed to the hair shirt by a legitimate spiritual advisor (incarnate or discarnate), but if we just pick our own ascesis in the spiritual salad bar, chances are that it will serve us less than life itself.

10/19/2010 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, just consider all the lousy books I read, so you people don't have to! Now, that's what I call a severe penitential ascesis.

10/19/2010 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

For which we are eternally grateful...

10/19/2010 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

This,

"Thus for the rest of us, we must create our own interior cathedral, so to speak... This interior cathedral is where the soul finds its rest. "

and,

"...there is a "love of work well done -- both the result and the performance -- and of wages honestly earned; an emotional accent on the fear of God and on meritorious works conscientiously and piously accomplished."
...if American capitalism were dominated by this mentality -- which it actually is, far more than people realize. Indeed, this is why it "works," because of the American "civil religion" so accurately described by de Tocqueville."

are deeply tied together, which is why this is abundantly clear,

"Intellectually speaking, the most meagerly endowed tea-partier knows more about America than Obama and his doubtcaste rabble of mentors. "

I see it every day, people stopping in on the way home from work to volunteer an hour or two, who barely know the Declaration of Independence from the Constitution... but have a far better grasp of America and it's government, how it's supposed to work and why, than the leftie gradual student activist for 'da man'.

Buckley's "...sooner be ruled by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Hahvahd..." still applies. It's not so much what's in the noggin, than what it is habitually directed to conform to.

10/19/2010 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I don't always manage to keep the right mindset about it, but I know, nonetheless, that my challenges are part of a spiritual discipline. When I get a phone call at 2:30am to fix something an operator has broken, or when my wife wants the concrete statuary moved one more time -- if I could recognize those things at the time they happen for what they are, I'd make some progress. I could turn even these little, petty inconveniences into "suffering for His sake" by thanking God in the midst of them. I'd be a both better man and closer to Him -- as Magnus said on the prior thread.

Instead I grudgingly do what I have to do, and, occasionally, afterward, realize what an opportunity I missed.

10/19/2010 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

So what'yer saying is...we won't be implementing the caste system today?

(Old Joke)
You know, I was thinking of the same thing, Bob :-)

Back to this powerful post. If I can hang on to 'er, that is. Whoa Nelly.

10/19/2010 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"In this regard, it is impossible for me to imagine him engaging in any kind of unethical or dishonest business dealing, even though he was in no way conventionally religious."

This reminds me of a "Walton's" episode. I was sort of young when it aired but it seemed to be about John Boy's struggle with what he thought was his father's lack of interest or lack of faith in God. His father almost dies, if not actually does for a little while, after having been struck by lightening and suffers a heart attack, I think. I think this happens while he is working in the rain at their sawmill; the family business. I wonder if anyone else remembers it?

10/19/2010 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Yes, just consider all the lousy books I read, so you people don't have to! Now, that's what I call a severe penitential ascesis."

So you DID read my book!

BTW, that lousy book on Newman looks pretty awesome.

10/19/2010 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

By the BTW, sorry for the trouble yesterday. Hope you didn't mind too much.

wv: squac!

10/19/2010 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Rick - thanks for the link to the old post. Combined with the comments, it makes for good afternoon reading.

I miss Ximeze.

10/19/2010 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I never was much of a Waltons fan but my nieces (now both little old gray-haired schoolmarms) loved it almost as much as "Little House". They say you are probably talking about an episode called "The Baptism".

10/19/2010 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

You're welcome, Julie.
I miss her too.

10/19/2010 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Wow Mushroom! Thanks!
I'll bet it's on Youtube.

10/19/2010 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

It is on Youtube:

The Baptism

10/19/2010 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

You're welcome, but my niece gets the credit. If Google smelled like Noxzema you couldn't tell them apart.

10/19/2010 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Rick, before I forget,

By the BTW, sorry for the trouble yesterday.

You should never apologize for simply disagreeing, you know. Purely for my own self, I thought it was very helpful - you made me re-examine my first impression and check what I thought I understood, which is never a bad thing. If you're right, and you didn't speak up, I think that would have been worse.

And if Bob were the kind of person to be bothered by any of that, I doubt we'd be hanging out here. I wouldn't, anyway.

Just my .02¢

10/19/2010 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I don't know what that means but it sounds pretty funny!
Who'd thunk you could make a joke with Noxema in it..

10/19/2010 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Thanks, Julie. It's pretty rare that a post here would bug me. It's probably a good sign. And that's not to say the whole thing bugged me. Just a small part. 99% or the rest I agreed with. By bug I mean like an itch or something. Anyway, my beef was with Schuon, and likely a result of me taking what he said out of context. It just sounded as if he was discounting something of great value to some.

10/19/2010 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Rick said "Who'd thunk you could make a joke with Noxema in it.."

I only know that it'd be a clean one.


wv differs:
stondip

I bigtime miss Ximeze.

10/19/2010 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger SippicanCottage said...

When I was little the priest turned his back on us and it was Latin. They'd swing that thurible right under your nose and the light would slant in through the colored glass just so. They'd pick out some passage to expound upon in the middle of course, and if you were a contemplative sort - and the priest was, too - it might make you think about something non-trivial. Your capstone reference brought me right back there, and I'm grateful for it.

After that, it was all catching cold by shaking hands, folk guitars, nuns dressed like the last four pages of the Sears catalog, and nonsense.

Related: Spellcheck has no idea what a thurible is.

10/20/2010 06:17:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Rick:

It's not surprising that Schuon doesn't always resonate with us on a completely harmonious frequency. He was after all a Muslim, or at least highly sympathetic to Islam. I think it's fair to say that by and large most of us are somewhat less sympathetic to this creed/religion, whatever the alleged merits of Sufism etc might be.

Note: I'm suggesting anything in the past day or so is directly related to Schuon's embrace of Islam, I'm merely observing that we're never 100% in accord with anyone, except (at least in my case) with Jesus Christ.

10/20/2010 07:38:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Thanks, NB.
I actually find Schuon difficult to read, but mostly because (I think) he writes to densely. It takes me awhile to find the pace; same with Tomberg, but with Tomberg once I do find the pace I feel more at ease with him than with Schuon. Some of it is taste, no doubt. His words are gems with authority. I have great respect for him. And glad to know him as much as I am able. I give Islam a better chance because of Schuon than I probably would. So that's probably good.

10/20/2010 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I mean, "so" densely.

10/20/2010 08:13:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Same with Seyyed Hossein Nasr. I've read some but much less than of Schuon. By same, I mean, because of these men I give Islam extra points just in case. They see something I haven't even tried to see, to be honest.

10/20/2010 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I don't care for Nasr, who is much more Islamic. Schuon is only "accidentally" Sufi but fundamentally universal.

10/20/2010 08:21:00 AM  

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